Prescription drugs are a growing presence in families’ lives today. A 2006 survey found that 55% of adults in the U.S. had taken at least one prescription medication in the preceding week; 11% had taken five or more (Slone Center, 2006). For many, prescriptions bring clear benefits, helping people manage and cure diseases and improve their quality of life.
But medicines can bring harm as well. This is particularly true for painkillers. Since 1999 misuse and abuse of powerful opioid pain relievers have grown dramatically, as have overdose death rates and substance abuse treatment admissions (CDC, 2011). More and more, “legal” drugs are being used in ways that are not approved. In 2010 more than 12 million Americans used painkillers without a prescription or to get high (SAMHSA, 2011).
The bottom line for child welfare practitioners? The presence of prescription drugs in families’ lives is something we must be able to assess and, if necessary, address. We aren’t medical professionals, so this is something we must do in partnership with physicians, mental health providers, substance abuse counselors, and other experts. But we do have an important part to play. We hope this issue of Practice Notes is useful to you as you respond to the challenges sometimes presented by prescription drugs.
Contents of this Issue