Proper diagnosis of prescription abuse

Reports about lax regulation of prescription drugs, and increasingly frequent abuse, merit more study.

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The UAE's tough trafficking laws have seriously reduced the availability of street drugs, but there is no single solution to the problems of drug abuse and addiction.

There now appears to be a growing incidence of abuse of over-the-counter drugs, but more data is needed to determine whether there are enough cases to constitute a trend. And that data should also inform public health policy.

Addiction can be the most stubborn of afflictions, as recovering drug users told The National yesterday. Reports earlier this week showed that some, at least, are taking advantage of lax prescription regulations to procure drugs without fear of penalty. Valium and Xanax, usually prescribed for anxiety or sleeping problems, are no less addictive because they are also used as medical treatments.

There can still be devastating consequences for drug abusers and their families. One addict's wife, who asked to remain anonymous, said her husband's problem had not lessened in severity because he had switched to prescription drugs. If anything, these substance are more readily available.

Authorities in Dubai say that cases involving prescriptions make up the majority of addicts. But there needs to be more research on the issue. Unlike the trade of street drugs such as hashish and heroin, prescription drugs should be much easier to monitor. That would also be part of the solution: increasing addiction rates are blamed on doctors writing prescriptions without proper cause, and pharmacies issuing drugs without proper precautions. Better record-keeping would deter irresponsible prescriptions as well as provide data about the volumes of drugs that are being sold.

At present, it is not uncommon for prescriptions to be used more than once. With plans for an online database to track prescriptions, paper trails and online transactions would make pharmaceutical firms and clinics more accountable for their actions. Fines and threats of closure should ensure greater accountability.

There is a legal component to curbing illicit use of prescription drugs, not least because of the medical malpractice that the trend seems to indicate. But as we have argued repeatedly on these pages, drug abuse is also a public health issue affecting not only addicts, but their families and communities. Treat the illness to cure the symptoms.