Prescription Drug Abuse: Exploring the Epidemic

prescription drugs

For years, the war on drugs was aimed at illicit substances like marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. Although these drugs persist as a national problem, the last decade has seen an alarming rise in prescription drug abuse. Prescription painkillers and anxiety medications now share the spotlight with traditional street drugs as some of the most dangerous and commonly abused drugs in America. From 1999-2016, drug overdose deaths rose to 630,000 people, with two-thirds of those involving opioids. On average, 115 Americans die each day from an opioid overdose.

Although a majority of these drugs are prescribed legitimately, many still end up in the hands of those intending to abuse them. The resale or street value of these medications continues to rise as medical professionals and government authorities look to mitigate the prescription drug epidemic. As the opiate crisis continues, the economic burden to society is also taking its toll, as more and more people are injured or die from prescription drug overdoses. Let’s take a brief look at most commonly misused prescription drugs and the continuing epidemic of abuse.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

The 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported an alarming 6.5 million people used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes—defined as the use of drugs for the effect or feeling produced rather than for a medical indication. There is a broad classification of drugs commonly abused for non-medical purposes, with painkillers or opiate analgesics (OxyContin, Vicodin, etc.) at the top. Other abused prescription drugs include sleeping pills or sedatives like Ambien, anti-anxiety medications like Xanax, and stimulants such as Adderall.

Prescription drug abuse, opiate abuse in particular, is a crisis. In fact, prescription opioid abuse ranks second among illicit substances, after marijuana. Most pain medications contain an opiate, synthetic opiate, or opiate-derived component. Drugs in this class include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone, among others. These drugs modify the body’s pain signals and are prescribed by a doctor. However, the intensely addictive nature of these drugs often leads a user to addiction.

How Does Prescription Drug Abuse Happen?

Narcotic pain relievers now contribute to nearly 3 out of 4 prescription drug overdoses. Although there are risk factors which increase vulnerability for addiction, authorities say the biggest concern lies in the public’s misconceptions about the overall safety of prescription medications. Many users are unaware of the dangers and fall into patterns of misuse and abuse with unintended consequences.

Prescription drugs come in many forms and for a variety of purposes. Sleep medications may be given to induce sleep, or pain relief meds may be prescribed following injury or surgery. Addiction can occur when an individual uses these drugs beyond the potency and/or frequency recommended by a physician. Addiction results form the body’s increasing tolerance for a medication. Drugs change the way the brain’s neurotransmitters respond to stimuli, and excessive dosages can wreak havoc on the body’s central nervous system. As the body gains tolerance to a particular dosage, users will require more and more to achieve the same effect. When the body is denied access to the drug, it will induce intense cravings and withdrawal sensations. Many users also substitute one drug for another in an attempt to mitigate cravings, perpetuating the cycle of addiction. For many users, addiction has taken a strong hold before they realize they have a problem.

Symptoms of Addiction

Once a user develops an addiction to prescription drugs, dependency can cause erratic behavior and irrational irritability, especially if their tolerance increases or supplies become scarce. An individual may grow panicky or take extreme measures to satisfy cravings. Symptoms of addiction are both physical and behavioral. As a user constantly tries to replicate their high, they  may take increasing amounts. The normal functions of the brain are disrupted, causing heart and organ disfunction with long-term use. Signs vary by substance, but users will often display abrupt weight changes, bloodshot or glazed eyes, bruises, infections and other physical signs.

Users will also display changes in behavior including increased irritability, lethargy, depression, and changes in personality. These changes often take a toll on relationships, both at home and at work, which can lead to increasing financial problems and sometimes criminal activity. Although these symptoms are similar for most types of substance abuse, prescription drug addicts often have to take extra steps to procure a supply. Sometimes, users will steal other’s prescriptions, visit multiple doctors to receive a prescription, forge a prescription, or even steal to afford a prescription. 

Learning to recognize both the physical and behavioral symptoms of drug abuse is important in preventing the progression of addiction. If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction to prescription drugs, it is never too late to get help. Contact Blu by the Sea today.