Abusing prescription drugs and getting hooked on them has been a grave concern across the United States that is affecting not only people’s health, but also their social and economic well-being. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), nearly 2.1 million Americans, including 54 percent females and about 30 percent adolescents, used prescription drugs nonmedically, for the first time, in a year prior to the survey.
When someone uses prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes, it poses a greater risk of health impairments, apart from causing addiction. Jamie was a young, bright boy who dreamt of a great future. He joined one of the top medical colleges in California to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. But his life took a dramatic twist when he was seized by addiction during his stay in the university.
His money, career, future, loved ones, and above all his sanity were all taken away, leaving him crippled. Doctors prescribed strong opioid painkillers to ease his pain that he frequently experienced during heavy addiction days.
The analgesic effect of the pill not only provided the much-needed relief, but also got him addicted to the high. Soon, Jamie had a box of pills for every possible reason – to remain awake to study, to get sleep, to overcome anxiety, and so on. Though he was aware of addiction, he felt they were safe because of being prescribed by his doctor. But one day, an overdose left him gasping for breath. When he opened his eyes, he found himself in an emergency room.
Prescription drugs that are commonly abused
It has been found that some prescription drugs are abused more commonly than others, probably due to their increased psychoactive properties. Some of these drugs are:
Opioids: They are prescription medicines which act on the opioid receptors in the spinal cord and brain to numb the intensity of pain. Apart from alleviating pain, opioids are also known to activate areas in the brain associated with rewards causing euphoric sensations. Chemically, opioid medications have structures identical to heroin and are often considered as gateway drugs leading to other street drugs. Some examples of prescription opioids are oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), morphine (Avinza), codeine, and fentanyl.
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants: These include prescription medicines like tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics, which can slow down the brain activity, and are used to treat anxiety and depression-related problems. Some examples of CNS depressants are benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium) and alprazolam (Xanax), and non-benzodiazepines, such as zolpidem (Ambien), and barbiturates, such as mephobarbital (Mebaral) and pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal).
Stimulants: They are a class of prescription drugs used to treat mental disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, etc. However, the most predominantly abused prescription stimulants are Adderall and Modafinil.
Preventing prescription drug abuse
Doctors, pharmacists, as well as patients can play an important role in identifying and preventing any unauthorized use of prescription drugs, as well as instances of doctor shopping. Physicians must incorporate more evidence-based screening tools as part of their consultation process. There should be an increased focus on other alternative forms of treatment for the management of pain.
Also, patients must be educated about the dangers of overdose, and the consequences of mixing prescription medicines with other intoxicants. Pharmacists need to be vigilant in recognizing counterfeit prescriptions or any alterations which could lead to abuse.