How many times have you been injured or had minor surgery or complained of pain and a doctor prescribed you a bottle of oxycodone or hydrocodone or something similar?
Often times, you might take one or two pills to manage the most severe pain, but you switch over to Tylenol or ibuprofen when the worst of it subsides. Then you put the rest in the medicine cabinet, an almost-full bottle of powerful drugs that you didn't need.
But not everyone does that. A lot of people keep taking the drug, become addicted to it, and develop serious health problems, separate from the original medical condition that prompted the need for a prescription in the first place.
Addicted patients whose doctors refuse to prescribe more drugs will go "doctor shopping" to find another physician who will give them more. In doing so, doctors can't keep track of what drugs patients are taking, resulting in undetected abuse.
In 2010, about 20 percent of patients who were either diagnosed or exhibited symptoms of pain in the U.S. were prescribed opiate drugs. The result has been an epidemic of abuse and overdose that results in the deaths of more than 16,000 people a year Ñ about 44 per day.
In addition, the overprescribing has created a separate drug problem affecting our youth. Kids age 12 to 17 abuse prescription drugs more than ecstasy, heroin, crack/cocaine and methamphetamines combined. Two-thirds say they get them from a friend or relative. Others buy them from individuals who steal the prescriptions from homes.
And at the top of this drug abuse pyramid are the doctors.
On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue guidelines for doctors to prescribe opiates for acute pain, similar to guidelines already in place for chronic pain.
At the same time, New York doctors are addressing the problem themselves. A task force formed in 2014 sets out steps doctors can take to curb the problem. And the Medical Society of the State of New York so far this year has hosted two of three planned webinars for doctors on prevention, best practices and treatment of opioid abuse.
Solving the nation's quiet drug abuse problem will come from more efforts like these by lawmakers and the medical community to bring the issue to the public's attention and put solutions into practice.