By Jackie Glass
Women, we have a problem. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, American women are dying from drug overdoses and the misuse of drugs at an alarming rate. As a former judge who presided over a drug court, I have seen firsthand what addiction can do to people, from all of its physical and psychological effects to the collateral damage that it can inflict on someone’s life.
Drug abuse often begins with legally prescribed pain medications for legitimate injuries, but so many of these drugs are habit-forming that it doesn’t take long for someone to get hooked. Once that happens, it is almost impossible to stop. Although I saw a greater number of men come before my drug court, I saw plenty of women, a significant percentage of whom were hooked on prescription pain relievers. According to that CDC study, from 1999 through 2010, there was a greater percentage increase in drug related deaths among women than men, with the number of women dying because of opioid pain relievers increasing fivefold. And since 2007, more women have died from drug overdoses than from motor vehicle-related incidents.
As a judge, I saw time and time again just how easy it is for people to obtain prescription pain meds, and I was often extremely frustrated with certain members of the medical community. Many of the participants in my drug court sought treatment from the same physicians or clinics, and the lack of attention and responsible care that some doctors exhibited was a significant problem. The CDC reported that women may be more likely than men to engage in “doctor shopping,” which involves actively seeking out prescriptions from multiple prescribers to feed an addiction.
Some drug court participants even got their teeth pulled, not because it was necessary but because tooth extractions often come with prescription pain meds. In one particular instance, my court marshall had to confiscate a prescription bottle from a female participant. Her prescription for liquid hydrocodone had been filled the day before, but just one day later, the bottle was already empty. As it turns out, she had gone to the emergency room to complain about vague aches and pains, and her doctor simply sent her home with a prescription. Sometimes, that’s all it takes.
Across the country, several states have passed legislation aimed at closing down so-called “pill mills,” those doctors offices and clinics that prescribe pain medication indiscriminately. The effects have been mixed. As the Orlando Sentinel reported back in April,Florida’s crackdown has succeeded in hampering a significant portion of the pill mills in the state, even decreasing the number of deaths due to prescription drugs. However, many addicts simply turn to neighboring states with laxer pill mill laws, or they just start abusing illegal drugs and the vicious cycle continues.
This problem has reached epidemic proportions in America, and any solution is going to take a concerted effort between state and federal governments, courts and law enforcement agencies, doctors, hospitals, pharmacies and treatment centers. If you think that someone you know is addicted to drugs, do something. Find a resource in your community and get some professional advice. Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration treatment hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). Don’t wait until it is too late.
This is not just a problem for women, not by any stretch of the imagination. But as the CDC report shows, prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and it is going to take a lot more than the status quo to make any kind of a dent in those statistics.
(Jackie Glass is a lawyer and former district court judge from Las Vegas. You can write to Jackie by firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter at @theJudgeGlass. This column is being provided for informational purposes only. It may not be relied upon by you as legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship.)
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