The last several years has seen an explosion in prescription drug abuse in the United States. This epidemic has cut across age groups and geographic boundaries, affecting every strata of American society. There is a perception around prescription drugs that they can be “trusted” more than illegal drugs aren’t because they’re obtained through a physician instead a street dealer. Frequently, the addicted person was initially prescribed medication for a legitimate ailment- such as ADHD or anxiety- only to see their use of the prescribed medicine spiral out of control. Maybe they experienced a traumatic injury and were prescribed powerful pain medication but found themselves reliant on an ever-increasing dose in order to feel the effect. The risks involved with this escalation of use can be hard to see until it’s already too late- and the consequences can be catastrophic. Quite often, addiction can lead the user to take illegal measures to obtain their drug of choice, even transitioning to illegal drugs if their drug of choice becomes unavailable.
Recognizing the Signs of Addiction
Though the medications being abused may be different, the patterns of abuse share many characteristics.
- Increased usage of the medication, outside of a physician’s recommendation
- Taking increasing and questionable measures to obtain medication, such as frequent ER visits, “Doctor shopping,” and claiming medication is stolen.
- Withdrawal from social and familial ties and/or obligations
- Weight fluctuations
- Sleep fluctuations, such as sleeping more or less or sleeping at odd times
- Mood swings, depression, hostility, irritability and anxiety
- Telling conflicting stories to family, friends and medical personnel regarding use of medication
Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
Most commonly abused prescription drugs fall into one of three categories:
- Opioids used to treat pain, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Percocet, commonly prescribed to treat chronic pain.
- Benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin and Valium, commonly prescribed for panic disorders and epilepsy.
- Central Nervous System Stimulants such as Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder and narcolepsy
Statistics of Prescription Drug Abuse
Drug Free World reports that 45% of all drug related deaths are caused by prescription drugs, more than heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine combined.
The NIH estimates the number of prescriptions for opioids (like hydrocodone and oxycodone) have escalated from around 76 million in 1991 to nearly 207 million in 2013
Medical emergencies resulting from prescription drug abuse increased 132 percent over the last seven years, with opioid involvement rising 183 percent, according to CLAAD.org
How to Help Someone Addicted to Prescription Drugs
Recovery from prescription drug addiction is possible. If a loved one is struggling with prescription drug use, it’s important to do your research and gather knowledge. A professional assessment is necessary to determine which drugs are being abused and the best path to recovery. Detoxification is the first step to establishing lasting recovery. Each person’s experience will be different based on their preexisting conditions, the specific needs based on the drugs being abused.