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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Editorial: Prescribed drugs should be better monitored

The rise of Adderall-addled college students continues the trend of prescription drug abuse in this country. Sunday’s Spokesman- Review article by three Washington State University students took a detailed look at young people popping pills with disturbing nonchalance.

Though Adderall is designed for people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy, many students use them as “smart pills” to stay alert for all-night study sessions and exams. Others partake recreationally. National studies suggest that 25 percent of college students have popped cognitive stimulants.

The pills are seductive, because they’re relatively cheap and easy to get. Their misuse begins as far back as middle school. Students’ casual attitude toward the potentially hazardous side effects has health officials concerned.

Patricia Maarhuis, prevention coordinator for WSU’s Alcohol, Drug Counseling, Assessment and Prevention Services, says students hand out the pills like gum. Word of its availability spreads quickly via social networking sites. She says cognitive stimulants have moved into third place – behind only alcohol and marijuana – on the list of substances abused on campuses.

The problem is part of a societal acceptance of pharmaceutical shortcuts for a variety of ills. According to the Washington attorney general’s office, prescription drug overdoses have eclipsed auto accidents as the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the state, with methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone leading the way. Nationwide, the death rate for methadone was six times higher in 2006 than in 1999, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The sheer number of medications has risen dramatically in the past decade, making them easier to obtain, which leads to abuse and addiction. These medical breakthroughs have been wonderful for the truly needy, but doctors, pharmacies and parents need to do a better job of ensuring that medications don’t fall into the wrong hands. Some college students claim they just recite the symptoms of ADHD to get prescriptions for a malady they don’t have. It ought to be more difficult than that.

Idaho has begun a prescription monitoring program to track sales and help prevent “doctor shopping,” where “patients” try to obtain medications from multiple doctors and pharmacies. Washington state has had to suspend its monitoring plans because of budget cuts.

Public education campaigns have helped turn around drunken driving and traffic fatality trends. A combination of those and monitoring programs are needed to stem the rising tide of prescription drug abuse.