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Life According To Lenson

The Loaded Weapon In Your Medicine Cabinet
Posted by Eileen Lenson on Feb 19, 2012 - 9:46:59 PM

LOS ANGELES“I knew I couldn’t do the crack cocaine anymore because it is illegal. So I took prescription drugs instead. Hey, these pills were prescribed to me. I thought I could handle it and they’d be safe,” assumed Jim, a 34-year-old man undergoing his second inpatient chemical dependency treatment program.

Photo by Lenson

Jim discovered firsthand the silent epidemic of prescription drug abuse. Today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes that prescription drug abuse is causing more deaths in the United States than heroin and cocaine combined.

Despite the fact that the number of deaths from prescription painkillers has tripled over the past year, society continues to view the drug war as being with illegal rather than prescription drugs. Schools and parents continue to caution children about street drugs, while missing the hazards lurking in their own medicine cabinets. 

Teens have been reported to attend parties with prescription medications pilfered from their parent’s medicine cabinets. These stolen medications are taken to “pharm parties” to be consumed with friends. Partiers risk accidental overdose and even death. Depressants can result in increased blood pressure and suicidal ideation. Stimulants can cause nervous tics and hallucinations. Painkillers can cause stomach bleeding, nausea and respiratory depression.  

The disastrous loss of many notable Americans to prescription drugsranging from Marilyn Monroe to Elvis Presley to Michael Jackson and now quite possibly Whitney Houstondrives home the fact that legal medications are a cure for diseases while their use can also lead to a disease that kills.

Significant others of the prescription medication abusers inadvertently become enablers of addiction. They do so by not challenging the prescription medication abuser for fear of being rejected. Others help cover up the addiction because they want to protect the user’s career or reputation or they want to protect their own position as a satellite of the addict. Tragically, these interactions enable the progression of the disease.

The addict's significant other must recognize he/she cannot passively wait for the person to see what the disease is doing. It will not happen, because the medications have a corrosive effect on his or her ability to objectively appraise his/her condition. Quitting without proper treatment can result in being overwhelmed by awareness of the painful feelings that were suppressed by the medications, as well as awareness of his physical and emotional deterioration. The cycle of shame, guilt, and subsequent relapse can result.

This society's wake-up call to examine its misunderstandings, tolerance and excuses about prescription drug abuse has sounded. We have witnessed enough personal tragedy and premature loss to know that the pattern of pathology in sustained chemical dependency is predictable.  It always ends in a downward spiral.


Eileen Lenson, MSW, ACSW, Board Certified Coach, previously worked in private practice as a clinical social worker with chemical dependency patients. She welcomes comments at  Visit her website at


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