Drug misuse, abuse: No excuse

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Cortney Paxton
  • 341st Missile Wing Public Affairs
Airmen serving in the U.S. Air Force have a duty to uphold the three core values of the service: integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do, and in order to meet all three of these values, Airmen must first be "fit to fight."

Maintaining that fit lifestyle means routine health checkups, proper diet and exercise, and sometimes using medications to combat illness and physical ailments. While picking up an over-the-counter medication at the local drug store or being prescribed medication by a healthcare provider are common practices for Airmen looking to get or remain healthy, misuse or abuse of any drug can be a serious problem with serious consequences.

"It's hard to define medication misuse because some people think of it as medication abuse and they're not the same thing," said Capt. Arnaldo Figueroa, 341st Medical Support Squadron officer in charge of pharmacy services. "Medication misuse is anything from not using the medication that has been prescribed by your healthcare provider the way it was instructed to using a medication prescribed to someone else. This is in comparison to medication abuse where there is a behavioral issue and there may even be a psychological or dependency component to it; normally known as substance use disorder. So while misuse and abuse are not the same thing, both are problems."

The misuse of prescription medications has drastically increased over the last 10 years and has become one of the most common reasons for emergency room visits and sudden death. In 2008, the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that one-third of all new abusers of prescription drugs in 2006 were 12 to 17 years of age. This data underscores the importance of proactively addressing drug misuse to prevent potential abuse, additional cost to healthcare and the burden that it may cause to society and military members.

In 2013, Malmstrom's pharmacy filled an average of 8,533 prescriptions a month. This number included new prescriptions from on base and off-base providers, as well as refills. While each prescription was filled to improve the health of those who took it, there's a chance that some of the outgoing medication was never used because a person's health issue was resolved before the medication was gone.

"It's important that unused drugs are being disposed of properly," Figueroa said. "Leftover medications remaining in cabinets at home could eventually lead to teenagers or children finding them and not knowing or understanding what the repercussions are of taking something that was not prescribed for them and could cause them serious health consequences. That's why it's so important."

To properly dispose of drugs, Team Malmstrom members may participate in annual Prescription Drug Take-Back events both on and off base. The next take-back event is scheduled for April 26 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the main gate visitor's center. The highway patrol office will also take unwanted or unused drugs anytime throughout the year at a drop box located at 812 14th St. N., Great Falls, Mont.

"Proper drug disposal is important in order to keep drugs out of our landfills and water systems," said police Capt. Bob Armstrong, Montana Highway Patrol District II. "People just got used to dumping them down toilets and throwing them in the garbage - that's not the proper way to do it because it effects the environment. We have a drop box available anytime, year-round. It's a receptacle built into the building on the outside so it's always accessible."

Along with negative environmental impacts, drugs improperly disposed of, or not disposed of at all, could fall into the hands of a child, teenager or an individual the drug wasn't prescribed, to leading to the misuse of the drugs and sometimes adverse consequences.

According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, "Any person... who wrongfully uses, possesses, manufactures, distributes, imports into the customs territory of the United States, exports from the United States or introduces into an installation, vehicle or aircraft used by or under the control of the armed forces a [controlled] substance... shall be punished as a court-martial may direct." This includes the sharing of prescription medications. While misuse of controlled substances could warrant adverse legal consequences, not disposing of or misusing expired prescribed drugs may result in negative consequences as well.

Anyone who believes they have developed a dependency or unhealthy use of any controlled substances, or others, are encouraged to contact Malmstrom's Mental Health Flight at 731-4633 to get help.