Prescription drug addiction is a real problem in America. In many parts
of rural America, like the Appalachian region, prescription drugs are
abused and used often for non-medical purposes. According to the National
Institute on Drug Abuse, 48 million Americans aged 12 and older have used
prescription drugs for recreation or non-medical reasons during their
lifetimes. This is approximately 20% of the U.S. population!
What is Prescription Drug Addiction?
In recent years, the U.S. has seen a dramatic increase in prescription
drug misuse and abuse. This increase has led to more emergency department
visits due to accidental overdoses. In addition, more people are receiving
addiction treatment in rehabilitation centers than ever before.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking
and use despite many bad consequences to the addict. The abuse of prescription
drugs leads to changes in the function and structure of the brain, and
the decision to take drugs is usually voluntary. However, many people
start abusing prescription drugs after receiving a legitimate prescription
following an injury or surgery.
Prescription Drugs Commonly Abused
There are three classes of prescription drugs that are commonly abused.
- Opioids – Morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and oxycodone.
- Central nervous system depressants-Benzodiazepines – Xanax, Valium,
Klonopin, and Ativan.
- Stimulants – Includes dextroamphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate
(Concerta, Ritalin, and Daytrana).
How Prescription Drugs affect the Body and Brain
When taken as prescribed, opioids can effectively and safely manage pain.
Opioids used short-term under a doctor’s supervision rarely leads
to dependence or addiction. However, with long-term use for chronic pain,
the risk of physical and psychological dependence increases. Opioids produce
a euphoric feeling. When snorted or injected, the euphoric effects are
increased and intensified.
Benzodiazepines and barbiturates work by relaxing the person, making them
feel calm, warm, and drowsy. When used for real anxiety and other nervous
conditions, these drugs work well. However, when abused (taking more than
prescribed, more often, or with alcohol), they produce serious respiratory
depression and confusion. After taking benzodiazepines long-term, abruptly
stopping them can lead to seizures.
Stimulants increase a person’s alertness, attention span, and energy
levels. These drugs also increase the blood sugar, blood pressure, and
heart rate. When taken in small doses, and as prescribed, stimulants are
safe. However, crushing or snorting these pills produce a serious “high,”
and this leads to addiction.
Drug Addiction is on the Rise
More primary care practitioners and ER doctors are prescribing prescription
opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants than ever before in history.
Because of high numbers being in the general population, they get sold,
given away, or stolen. In addition, online pharmacies can dispense these
highly addictive drugs legally.
It is not uncommon for prescription drugs to be stolen from a parents’
medicine cabinet, an aunt’s purse, or a friend’s backpack.
Children and teens have access to these medicines, and they often sell
and trade prescription drugs. In addition, many prescription drugs infiltrate
the U.S. from other countries, such as India, China, and Mexico.
Why Some People Become Addicted
Some people are more at risk for prescription drug addiction than others.
Risks for addiction are increased by a person’s age, stage of development,
social environment, genetics, and brain biology. The more risk factors
a person has, the greater the chance of becoming addicted to prescription drugs.
If you or someone you know is abusing prescription drugs, it is time to
ask for help. Consult a friend, talk to a school counselor, or call and
addiction treatment center. Feelings of depression and anxiety are commonly
associated with substance abuse, so it is important to seek proper health
care for these issues.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2016). Nationwide trends.