Take Two Pills and Reserve Your Place in Rehab

Apparently it takes a tragedy for the media to notice a trend.

Last month the University of Michigan released a study that found prescription drug abuse by teenagers is on the rise.  A Nexis search revealed that with the exception of ABC, networks largely ignored the story.

And it's not just teenagers.  The NationalCenter on Addiction and Substance Abuse at ColumbiaUniversity in New York reported in May 2007 that the rate of Americans abusing prescription drugs jumped 94 percent between 1992 and 2003. 

But it took actor Heath Ledger's death and its possible link to prescription drugs to put drug abuse back in the headlines. 

NBC's January 28 broadcast of The Today Show featured news anchor Ann Curry interviewing actor Daniel Baldwin and Dr. Drew Pinsky of the VH1 show, Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, about addiction. 

NBC deserves kudos for educating people on the hidden dangers of drugs that are FDA approved and prescribed by doctors. But the fact that it took the death of Ledger to push this to the forefront of news is disappointing.  

ANN CURRY, CO-HOST: There is a real problem...


CURRY: ...of addiction in America, and the question is--you're saying if it's prescription drugs, then what's going to have to happen...

PINSKY: Well, it is prescription drugs...

CURRY: ...to stop--to stop...

PINSKY: Well...

CURRY: ...people from use--misusing prescription drugs?

PINSKY: Just awareness of things like this, for instance. But the reality is that in my treatment program the average patient is addicted to benzodiazepine and opiates. These are oral medications that are either prescribed by a doctor or procured through the Internet, and that supports the denial of, `Well, I'm just following my doctor's orders.'


Dr. PINSKY: Keith Ledger***(as spoken)***for instance, could have been taking something under somebody's supervision, not really understand the danger of these products. Raising awareness. Look in your own medicine cabinet. The fact is that in that medicine cabinet you're going to see sleeping medicine, benzodiazepine, anti-anxiety medicine, and opiates left over from some dental procedure or something. Get rid of them. Your kids are seeing that. Your kids see the threshold to use as very low. If it's in your medicine cabinet--and by the way, all my buddies have been on psychostimulants, like, you know, Adderall or whatever, their whole life. It's no big deal. We have to raise awareness about the profound dangers of prescription medications.

CURRY: And that's why you're here, Daniel. Your concern--you said to me before we started this interview, you know, you want to help by being so honest. You went through a tough time.

DANIEL BALDWIN, “CELEBRITY REHAB WITH DR. DREW”: I did. And, you know, I will tell you that I've never been hooked on prescription meds. But remember, the problem is, is how sneaky this disease is. These people probably had, a vast majority of them, a legitimate reason of concern.

 PINSKY: They did.

BALDWIN: They had a surgery on their back. They've had some kind of a problem where they took these medications and they were given them with the best intentions. As you start to go along, you don't realize, because it's not really given to you educationally, that you can become dependent on these drugs. And after a little while you start to say, `You know what, maybe two would make me feel a little bit better than one.'

Pinsky also touched on the fact that some people are genetically predisposed to addiction and called on doctors to be more responsible when they dispense painkillers.  He said “…the doctor should be asking that question: 'Do you--have you ever had a momentum with a substance? Do you have a family history of alcoholism or addiction? If you do, you should really not be on these medications more than two weeks.'”

Drug abuse is a serious problem.  Networks should not wait for the next celebrity death to highlight the dangers of drugs. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the MediaResearchCenter.