Millions of people throughout the world are taking drugs on a daily basis. If you were to ask someone why they take prescription drugs, most people would be taking them for the right reason. However, it’s estimated that twenty percent of people in the United States alone have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.1 Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing problem that often goes unnoticed. Abusing these drugs can often lead to addiction and even death. You can develop an addiction to certain drugs that may include: narcotic painkillers, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants. Prescription drugs are the most common abused category of drugs, right next to marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other dangerous drugs. The centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. Addressing the prescription drug abuse epidemic could help build stronger communities and allow those with substance abuse disorders to lead healthier, more satisfying lives. A crucial step in overcoming the problem of prescription drug abuse is to first educate parents, youth, and patients, about the dangers of abusing these drugs. Studies have shown that most people who misuse these drugs are teens and young adults ages twelve to twenty five. They may often believe these substances are safer than illicit drugs because they were prescribed by a professional. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that nearly a third of people age twelve and over used drugs for the first time by using a prescription drug non-medically.
In a study of students in Wisconsin and Minnesota, thirty four percent of kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) said they had been approached to sell or trade their Ritalin or Adderall. The latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that over seventy percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives. Most people do not lock up their medication or discard them when they no longer intend on using them. This makes them vulnerable to theft or misuse. According to the 2012 Monitoring the Future Survey, about fifty percent of high school seniors said that opioid drugs, other than heroin (e.g., Vicodin), would be fairly easy to obtain. Interestingly, boys and girls tend to misuse these drugs for different reasons. For example, boys are more likely to abuse stimulants to get high. Girls tend to abuse them to lose weight. Those who abuse prescription medications are more likely to report use of other drugs unless this issue is taken into control. Many different things can happen when you abuse prescription drugs. Stimulant abuse can cause paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, and irregular heartbeat. Abuse of opioids can cause drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and slowed breathing. Abusing depressants can cause slurred speech, shallow breathing, fatigue, disorientation, lack of coordination, and seizures.
Abusing over the counter drugs can impair motor functions, produce numbness, cause nausea and vomiting, and increase heart rate.4 Doctors consider the risks to each patient before prescribing medications. They take into account things like the patient’s age, weight, medical history, the drugs form, dose, possible side effects, and the potential for addiction. People abusing drugs might not understand how these factors interact and can put them at risk. Someone abusing a certain type of medication may overload their system or make themselves vulnerable to dangerous drug interactions that can cause seizures, coma, or even death. In 2000, about forty three percent of hospital emergency admissions for drug overdose happened because of misused prescription drugs. They are designed to treat a particular illness or condition, but they often have other side effects on the body. For example, stimulants such as Adderall increase attention but also raise blood pressure and heart rate. These side effects can be worse when prescriptions are not taken as prescribed, or are abused in combination with other substances. For instance, some people mix alcohol and Valium, both of which can slow breathing. The combination of the two could stop breathing altogether. Cough and cold medications are some of the most commonly abused over the counter medications. They contain an ingredient called dextromethorphan.
However, to get to the “high” craved by people who use drugs, large quantities are needed. At high doses, dextromethorphan causes side effects similar to those of the drugs Ketamine, or PCP, by affecting similar sites to the brain. Ketamine and PCP are considered “dissociative” drugs, which make people feel disconnected from their normal selves. When taken as directed, over the counter drugs are safe and effective, but high doses can cause problems. It’s always important to read the bottle labels and take over the counter medications only as directed. Not all prescription drugs have the potential for abuse and addiction. Many drugs don’t even act in the brain. For example, antibiotics are not addictive. On the rare occasion people who take drugs for medical conditions may become addicted. This is why it is extremely important to be under a doctor’s care while taking prescription medication. Most prescription drugs are taken in a form that gets to the brain slowly at a dose that treats a problem, but doesn’t overwhelm the system. Both of which reduce the likelihood of an addiction. Long-term medical use of prescription drugs can lead to physical dependence, because the brain and the body naturally adapt to chronic drug exposure.
A person may need larger doses of the drug to achieve the same initial effects, which is known as tolerance. When drug use is stopped, withdrawal symptoms can occur. Dependence is not the same as addiction. It is one of the many reasons a person should only take and stop taking prescription drugs under a physician’s care. The risks for addiction increase when drugs are used in ways other than prescribed. Physicians, their patients, and pharmacists all play a role in identifying and preventing prescription drug abuse. More than eighty percent of Americans had contact with a healthcare professional in the past year, placing doctors in a position not only to prescribe medications, but also to identify abuse. By asking about all drugs, physicians can help their patients recognize that a problem exists, set recovery goals, and seek appropriate treatment. Screening for prescription drug abuse can also be incorporated into routine medical visits. Doctors should take note of rapid increases in the amount of medication needed and unscheduled refill requests. Patients can also take steps to ensure that they use prescription drugs appropriately. These steps include always following the drugs directions, being aware of potential interactions with other drugs, never stop or change a dosing regimen without first discussing it with a healthcare provider, and never use another person’s prescription.
Patients should always inform their healthcare professionals about all prescriptions, over the counter medications, and dietary or herbal supplements they are taking before they obtain any other medication. Pharmacists also play a very important role in preventing drug abuse. Pharmacists dispense medications and can help patients understand the directions for taking them. By being watchful for prescription falsifications or alterations, pharmacists can serve as the first line of defense in recognizing prescription drug abuse. Some pharmacies have developed hotlines to alert other pharmacies in the region when a fraudulent prescription is detected. Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) require physicians and pharmacists to log each filled prescription into a State database. This can assist medical professionals in identifying patients who are getting prescriptions from multiple sources.
Because prescription drugs are legal, they are easily accessible. Parents, law enforcement, the medical community, and all levels of government have a role to play in reducing prescription drug abuse. Some things you can do to reduce the abuse of drugs may include: Follow disposal guidelines, talk to your children, and seek treatment or support individuals in recovery. By following the guidelines you reduce the risk of unintentional diversion or harm. Talking to your children at an early age can make sure they know the dangers of drug abuse and can be very helpful in prevention. It is always very important to encourage someone you may know with a drug abuse problem to seek recovery. Thousands of individuals who have struggled with addiction are now living happy lives with the help of treatment and recovery services.2 In conclusion, prescription drug abuse is a growing problem that can be overcome with prevention and the right treatment.
1. Prescription Drug Abuse. Medline Plus. Available at: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/prescriptiondrugabuse.html Accessed 9/20/2013
2. Prescription Drug Abuse. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Available at: www.whitehouse.gov/andcp/prescription-drug-abuse
3. Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction. CRC Health Group. Available at: www.crchealth.com/addiction/prescription-drug-addictions-2/
4. Drug Facts-Prescription Drugs. NIDA For Teens. The Science behind Drug Abuse. Available at:
5. Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Available at: www.drugabuse.gov/publications/prescription-drugs-abuse-addiction/preventing-recognizing-prescription-drug-abuse Accessed 9/20/2013
6. The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic. PDMP Center of Excellence. Available at: www.pdmpexcellence.org/drug-abuse-epidemic
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