Prescription drugs are medications that are legally available only by prescription. Prescription drugs are intended to treat specific conditions and ailments diagnosed by a medical doctor. Most prescription drugs are not dangerous, and can be taken as directed with little to no negative effects or concerns. However, there are some prescription drugs that can be extremely dangerous, especially when they are abused or taken non-medically. These drugs are those that can be addictive, and produce very dangerous effects when they are not taken as prescribed, or taken by an individual for whom they have not been prescribed.
Opioid Prescription Drugs
Opioids are synthetic or semi-synthetic narcotic pain relievers. Mimicking the effects of opiates like heroin and codeine, opioids bind to the opiate receptor in the brain in the same way. The most common opioids used as prescription drugs are intended to manage pain ranging from mild to chronic and severe, and include such drugs as:
These prescription drugs range from moderate to extremely powerful, and all are commonly prescribed for individuals suffering from pain, depending on the severity of the pain. Opioids work by dulling one’s perception of pain, thereby making it more manageable.
While effective painkillers, opioid prescription drugs are extremely addictive, and when taken recreationally, can produce an intense euphoria for users. With effects very similar to heroin, these drugs are very commonly abused, and become the subject of addiction for millions of Americans every year.
Additionally, opioid prescription drugs are in a class of central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which cause a number of effects that slow the mind and body function of a user. With excessive use, this effect can be very dangerous, and even cause a deadly overdose. Some of the effects of opioid prescription drugs are:
- Shallow breathing
- Decreased heart rate
- Constricted (pinpoint) pupils
- Low blood pressure
- Heavy eyelids and limbs
- Impaired coordination
- Intermittent periods of awake and sleep (nodding off)
These effects are significantly intensified when individuals abuse opioid prescription drugs, and when these drugs are taken in excess, it can result in overdose and death. Abuse of opioid prescription drugs is a growing epidemic in the United States, and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that about 7 million Americans reported non-medical use of opioids in 2011. Additionally, NIDA also reports that opioid prescription drug abuse has resulted in more deaths than all illicit drug use.
Stimulant Prescription Drug Abuse
Stimulant drugs have been a social and health problem in the United States for many decades, and each decade has seen a different type of stimulant drug rise to the top of abuse and addiction. In the 1970s – 1980s, cocaine abuse and addiction was at its peak. In the 1980s – 1990s, crack exploded in urban areas, making it the target for then President Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs.” In the 2000s, meth addiction hit the country with a massive impact, bringing about the “Combat Meth Act” of 2005. Since then, designer prescription drugs, most commonly those marketed under the brand names of Adderall® and Ritalin® have been at the forefront of stimulant prescription drug abuse and addiction. These drugs contain amphetamine, which is a powerful psychostimulant intended to improve concentration and alertness in small doses. However, abuse of these drugs has additional effects that have brought about a great deal of concern and medical urgency to combat the epidemic of stimulant prescription drug abuse. Some of the effects of stimulant drug abuse are as follows:
- Loss of appetite
- Dilated pupils
- Increased heart rate
- Increased body temperature
- reduced inhibition
- Agitation and/or aggression
Chronic abuse of stimulant prescription drugs can lead to a number of dangerous consequences, most notably, heart attack and death. Stimulant prescription drug abuse is most common among women, as these drugs suppress appetite, and bring about weight loss, which has been particularly appealing to women. The most powerful stimulant drug available today is methamphetamine, which is also available by prescription under the name of Desoxyn®, which is very difficult to get. The other alternative to Desoxyn® is illicit meth, but most people are aware of the physical and psychological damage it causes, so in extreme cases of stimulant prescription drug addiction, an individual may eventually resort to using illicit meth.
Sedative Prescription Drug Abuse
Sedative prescription drugs are otherwise known as benzodiazepines, or minor tranquilizers. Benzodiazepines are prescribed for a variety of purposes, including insomnia, seizures, anxiety, and pre-surgical sedation. Like opioid prescription drugs, benzodiazepines are also CNS depressants that work by enhancing the effects of GABA in the brain. GABA is responsible for feelings of sedation, relaxation, and sleep. Benzodiazepines are available in many different strengths and lengths of action, and include such drugs as:
Abuse of sedative prescription drugs is especially dangerous because most individuals who abuse these drugs do so in combination with other depressant drugs like opioids and/or alcohol. It is dangerous enough to use any CNS depressant drug non-medically, but when multiple drugs of this class are being used at the same time, the consequences can be very dangerous and deadly. Some of the most common effects of sedative prescription drugs are listed below:
- Reduced heart rate
- Slurred speech
- Muscle relaxation
- Impaired coordination
- Slowed reaction time
- Shallow breathing
- Respiratory depression and/or arrest
These symptoms of excessive use of sedative prescription drugs can be deadly on their own, but when an individual uses them for a period longer than 4 weeks, he or she can become physically dependent on them, and suffer life threatening symptoms during withdrawal. The most dangerous of all withdrawal symptoms from sedative prescription drugs is the potential for convulsions and seizures. Medical consultation should always be sought prior to attempting to withdraw from long-term use of sedative prescription drugs.
Prescription Drug Addiction
Prescription drug addiction is the direct result of the availability of these drugs to individuals with a propensity towards abuse and addiction. Most of the prescription drugs that are being abused do not come from the streets, like illicit drugs do. The most common method of obtaining these drugs is through friends and relatives for whom they have been prescribed. Although this is the most common way of individuals getting these drugs, it is not sustainable as addiction progresses, and tolerance increases. There must be other ways to get prescription drugs for abuse, and the methods are numerous.
- Pill Mills – Pill mills are most commonly known as medical clinics, but they can also describe a solo practitioner who dispenses prescriptions for drugs in exchange for a flat fee. Doctors like these are common and can be found with minimal effort. Many addicts have very little trouble finding, and soliciting the services of these doctors to maintain their addiction to prescription drugs.
- Overseas Online Pharmacies – While online pharmacies are under the close watch of the DEA, there are hundreds of them, and for each one that is shut down, another two or three take its place. Online pharmacies are the ultimate anonymous way for addicts to obtain prescription drugs, as they only require a credit card and mailing address for prompt shipment of dozens of dangerous and addictive prescription drugs.
- Doctor Shopping – Many addicts will see multiple doctors complaining of pain, insomnia, anxiety, ADHD, and various other conditions for which they request addictive prescription drugs. With no way of knowing who else the individual may have seen, doctors often unwittingly prescribe these drugs, allowing one individual to have several prescriptions for the same drug. Most often, people who engage in doctor shopping get their prescriptions filled at different pharmacies to avoid suspicion.
- Street Dealers – Although far less common than other means, street dealers supply a large amount of prescription drugs sold to addicts. This is usually a desperate measure taken by addicts, but street level dealers have capitalized on the burgeoning prescription drug addiction epidemic, and have found tremendous profit in selling these drugs, which they usually get from pill mill style medical practices.
Regardless of how an individual may acquire prescription drugs, if he or she is struggling with addiction to them, there are a number of negative consequences he/she will encounter as the addiction progresses and medical justification for more diminishes. Even if prescription drug abuse began with a legitimate medical need, by the time an addiction develops, a medical need is not longer valid for the requirements to satisfy the addiction. Despite this fact, most people who abuse prescription drugs do not have prescriptions for them, and according to NIDA, more than half of those who have used prescription drugs non-medically got them from a friend or relative for free. Understanding the availability of prescription drugs in modern society may shed some light on why abuse of these drugs is so common.
The most deadly misconception is that prescription drugs are somehow safer than illicit drugs because they come from a doctor, but these drugs take more lives than illicit drugs, as noted by NIDA.
If you or someone you know is abusing or addicted to prescription drugs, please get help now. Call us and speak with a trained counselor about your situation. They will work with you to determine the most effective course of treatment for yourself, or your addicted loved one, based on individual needs, preferences, and belief systems. Addiction can be treated, and the availability and dangers of prescription drugs make an effective drug rehab program more important than ever. As a recovering addict, there must be a strong foundation for sobriety and recovery in order to prevent relapse and the reemergence of addiction. Don’t wait for prescription drug addiction to claim another life. Please get the help so needed and deserved for yourself or your loved one.