What you need to know about prescription drug abuse

Prescription drug abuse is the use of a medication that is prescribed by your doctor, but is used in a manner that is not intended by the prescribing doctor. Prescription drug abuse includes everything from taking a friend’s pain killer for your back ache to injecting medications to get high. Abuse of prescription drugs in the United States has been increasing. It is estimated 6.2 million Americans– that is 2.5% of the US population- is abusing prescription drugs. This is a problem that affects all age groups, but is very common in young individuals and appears to be an epidemic in women.

To get how big this problem is, consider that a recent CDC report found that nearly 48,000 women died of prescription pain killer overdoses between the years 1999 and 2010. Every three minutes a woman goes to the emergency room for prescription pain killer misuse or abuse. Sadly, in addition to women, Latinos are not immune. A recent University of Cincinnati survey study found that Hispanic high school students indicated they were likely to abuse prescription drugs with a higher preference for non-medical prescription drugs.

Although all individuals can be affected, there are several risk factors for prescription drug use.

  • Past or present addictions to other substances including alcohol.
  • Younger ages, specifically the teens or early 20’s, seem to be particularly predisposed towards prescription drug abuse.
  • Individuals with pre-existing psychiatric conditions such as generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and bipolar disease.
  • Exposure to peer pressure and a social environment where there is drug use.
  • Healthcare workers with easy access to prescription drugs.
  • Lack of knowledge about prescription drugs side effects

There are three categories of medications that seem to be particularly abused. They include:

  • Opioids which includes drugs such as morphine and hydrocodone
  • Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications like ( Xanax®, Valium®)
  • Stimulants such as methylphenidate ( ritalin™) and adderall™

These drugs can cause death either by overdose, which may cause you to stop breathing, or by abruptly stopping of the drug, causing withdrawal associated with seizures and heart problems. Medications likely to be abused cause addiction by directly or indirectly provoking an acute release of dopamine (a brain chemical). This dopamine acts as a brain reward which leads to abuse and addiction in susceptible individuals.

The following are some tips to help prevent abuse from occurring:

  • If you are prescribed a drug with addiction potential, ask your doctor if there is an extended release version of a drug or alternative medication with ingredients that have less potential for addiction. Tell your doctor about all your prescriptions as well as over-the-counter medications, herbs and supplements, alcohol and drug use. Make sure your doctor understands your condition and the signs and symptoms you are experiencing.
  • Follow directions for use carefully; use the drug the way it was prescribed. Don’t stop or change the dose of the drug on your own, if it doesn’t work talk to your doctor. If you are taking a pain medication that isn’t adequately controlling your pain, don’t take more. Check in with your doctor often to let them know if the medicine is working.
  • Ask your pharmacist or doctor about the effects of the medication so you know what to expect.
  • Never use another person’s prescription. Everyone is different. Even if you have similar medical conditions it may not be the right medication or dose.
  • Don’t order prescriptions online unless they are from a trustworthy pharmacy.

If you are a parent and your child is prescribed an addictive drug, you should:

  • Discuss the dangers of prescription drugs and teens.
  • Set rules about children’s prescription medications; let your kids know that it is not okay to share medications with others, emphasize the importance of taking a prescribed dose of medication.
  • Keep your prescription drugs safe.
  • Make sure your child isn’t ordering drugs online.
  • Dispose unused medication. Check the label or patient information guide for best disposal or ask your pharmacist.

It is important not to mix any potentially addictive drugs with alcohol or illicit drugs. About half of all prescription pain killer deaths involve at least one other drug including benzodiazepine (like valium®, Xanax®), cocaine, heroin or alcohol. Make sure that if you have a sleeping disorder, are overweight or have breathing problems, you let your doctor know. Commonly abused prescription drugs can impact your breathing.

Know that prescription drugs linked to abuse are now tracked. 36 states have prescription drug monitoring programs. These are state run electronic databases used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients. They are designed to monitor information for suspected abuse and can give a prescriber or pharmacist critical information.

Dr. Joe Servin -nbc-final

Dr. Joseph Sirven is a first-generation Cuban-American. He is Professor and Chairman of the Department of Neurology and was past Director of Education for Mayo Clinic Arizona. He is editor-in-chief of epilepsy.com and has served U.S. and global governmental agencies including the Institute of Medicine, NASA, FAA, NIH and CDC.

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