Prescription drugs are responsible for the largest percentage of overdose deaths nationwide. Of the 22,400 drug overdose deaths in the US, opioid painkillers accounted for 38.2% of them. Every day in the United States, 2,500 adolescents abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time. Why are these numbers so high, and what can be done about them?
Prescription Drug Abuse in America
One of the biggest problems associated with prescription drug abuse is the perceived safety of these drugs. Many people believe that these medications are harmless, because they’re endorsed by the medical community and prescribed by doctors. Unfortunately, even normal, prescribed use can result in a physical dependence, especially in the case of painkillers and anti-anxiety medications.
Nonmedical use is defined by The Mayo Clinic as using a medication in a way that was not intended by a prescribing physician. This can include something as seemingly innocuous as taking a friend’s prescription painkiller for a headache – a legitimate medical concern – but it also includes taking large amounts of those same pills for recreational use – in order to get high.
Why Do People Try Prescription Drugs?
Prescription drug abuse is especially common in teens and young adults, who are able to access family members’ medications more easily than other addictive substances. However, no one is immune from the temptation of drug use. Your loved one may seek out prescription medications in order to:
- Relax or relieve tension
- Get high (or feel good)
- Reduce appetite
- Increase alertness
- Experiment with the effects of the drug
- Maintain addiction
- Prevent withdrawal
- Feel accepted by peers
- Improve concentration
- Boost work or academic performance
Types of Prescription Drugs
While America’s opioid epidemic is one of the most highly covered aspects of this public health concern, there are actually several types of medications that are misused every day. By educating yourself on these substances and their prescribed medical use, you’ll be able to readily identify if you or someone you love has developed a dependence on them.
Opioids, or prescription painkillers, are extremely dangerous when misused. They are usually prescribed to treat pain, whether acute – associated with surgeries and injuries – or chronic in nature. You’ve probably heard some of the drug names: Oxycontin, Percocet, hydrocodone, and Fentanyl.
These drugs cause a wide array of physical side effects, including low blood pressure, depressed breathing rate, and coma. The slowed breathing common to opioid use can eventually cause you to stop breathing altogether. For this reason, overdoses can be fatal.
Signs of Opioid Misuse
- Euphoria (feeling high)
- Slowed breathing
- Poor coordination
- Needing increased dosages for pain relief
- Hyperalgesia (increased sensitivity to pain with higher dosages)
Stimulants are typically prescribed for attention-defecit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), although they can also be used in the treatment of narcolepsy. These are uppers, created with the intention of increasing alertness, energy, and attention. Commonly misused stimulants are Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Dexedrine.
These drugs affect the full body; their side effects can cause major health concerns, both physical and mental. Stimulants are associated with dangerously high body temperature, high blood pressure, seizures, tremors, hallucinations, heart problems, aggression, and paranoia.
Symptoms of Stimulant Misuse
- Increased alertness
- Euphoria (feeling high)
- Irregular heartbeat
- High body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Reduced appetite
Sedatives and Hypnotics
Anti-anxiety medications, hypnotics, and sedatives are classified as CNS (central nervous system) depressants. They’re used to treat a variety of issues, from sleep disorders to panic disorders. Commonly prescribed CNS depressants include Xanax, Valium, and Ambien.
These drugs cause memory problems, slowed breathing, and dangerously low blood pressure. Overdosing on them carries a high risk of coma or death. Stopping the medication outside of physician supervision can cause serious withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and nervous system hyperactivity.
Signs of Sedative Misuse
- Unsteady walking, movement
- Slurred speech
- Poor concentration
- Memory problems
- Slowed breathing rate
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Some behavioral signs are common to all prescription drug addictions and extend beyond the physical symptoms outlined above. These include:
- Taking higher dosages than prescribed
- Taking medication more often than recommended
- Sleeping much more or much less than normal
- Mood swings
- Irritability and hostility, sometimes resulting in violence
- Stealing, forging, or selling one’s prescriptions
- Risk-taking and poor decision-making
- Seeming high, unusually energetic, or sedated
- Requesting early refills
- “Losing” prescriptions so that more must be written
- Seeing more than one doctor in an attempt to get more prescriptions
When Should I Seek Treatment?
If you suspect that you or a loved one has developed a problem with these medications, we encourage you to reach out as soon as possible. It’s much easier to treat prescription drug abuse while it’s in the early phases. Please contact Lakeside-Milam by phone, toll-free, at 800-231-4303.