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06 April
Rise of prescription drugs - Part 3: Legally addicted
By Rachael

Rise of prescription drugs – Part 3: Legally addicted

While alcohol abuse tops the list of substances being abused, the nonmedical use of prescription drugs, particularly stimulants, sedatives and pain relievers, have emerged as an epidemic. With prescription drugs playing an important role in the health care of the United States, almost half of the population took at least one prescription drug between 2007 and 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, it has taken millions of lives.

According to the recent statistics highlighted by the National Safety Council, drug overdoses are mostly caused by opioids, such as Vicodin, OxyContin and fentanyl, which accounted for about 18,893 deaths in 2014. Though there has been several inventions and discoveries for treating chronic diseases, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety disorders and sleep disorders, they have increased dependence on prescription drugs in the U.S. A 2013 report by the Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit organization, has highlighted that prescription painkillers are responsible for more than 16,000 deaths and 475,000 emergency department visits a year.

Understanding commonly abused prescription medications

Emergency department visits have climbed tremendously for medications used for treating pain, insomnia and anxiety. In the majority of overdose death cases, opioids have been identified as the main cause of death. In fact, the total number of overdose death cases due to opioids has quadrupled since 1999, according to the CDC. Although doctor shopping is one of the primary methods of obtaining prescription drugs illegally, people purchase controlled substances online or through fraudulent ways for illegal use. This has contributed to the rapid rise of prescription drug abuse.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has categorized prescription medications into three general categories, such as  prescription opioids, prescription sedatives and prescription stimulants, as described below:

  • Prescription opioids: By causing similar effects like heroin, opioids, such as codeine, morphine, methadone, fentanyl and analogs, and oxycodone, are commonly abused. Often prescribed for traumatic injuries and after surgical procedures, opioids are highly addictive drugs that can cause a rush, intense feeling of pleasure, etc.
  • Prescription sedatives: Prescription sedatives, also known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants and tranquilizers, work by depressing or slowing down the activity of the nervous system and inhibiting the activity of other brain cells. As these drugs cause drowsiness or a calming effect, they are commonly prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders. Medications like barbiturates, benzodiazepines (Valium and Xanax) and sleep medications (Ambien and Lunesta) are some of the commonly abused prescribed medicines.
  • Prescription stimulants:These psychoactive substances increase the activity of the CNS, which enhances alertness and produces euphoric highs. Stimulants have the ability to mimic and enhance the neurotransmitters of the brain, which can cause alertness and increased energy. The abuse of stimulants can cause anxiety, high blood pressure and in some cases, heart attacks. Drugs like amphetamines (Adderall) and methylphenidates (Ritalin) are some of the commonly abused prescription stimulants.

Addiction begins at home

Medication prescribed for a variety of common reasons, including mild to chronic surgical pain, common cold and cough, mild headaches, migraine, etc., carries a high risk of developing increased dependence. Medicines prescribed for cough and cold are also often abused in combination with other hard drugs, such as alcohol or marijuana. Because of their readily available nature at home or medical stores, these medicines are considered an easy drug for abuse.

Buying illicit drugs from a dealer, visiting a doctor to obtain a prescription for drugs, getting a bottle of cough syrup at an affordable price and without much nuisance, etc. are some of the easier ways to obtain drugs for abuse.

The increased abuse of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines is associated with a higher risk of abusing alcohol or other illicit drugs. These medicines can alter one’s brain and can even shut down the CNS, which may lead to health issues like increased and irregular heart rate and blood pressure, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, memory loss, hallucinations and dissociative effects, liver damage, heart attack, stroke, etc.

Road to recovery

Recovery can be a long and arduous road that also demands endurance of withdrawal symptoms and emotional breakdown. Although the process can be mentally exhausting and physically painful, addiction is treatable with comprehensive treatments customized according to a patient’s needs. If you know someone who is battling with prescription drug abuse, contact the Arizona Prescription Abuse Helpline. Call us at our 24/7 helpline 866-692-3563 or chat online to know about the top prescription abuse treatment centers in Arizona.

Read the other articles of the series “Rise of prescription drugs:”

Part 1: From improper use to misuse

Part 2: Downfall of opioids from wonder drug to dangerous drug


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