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The Problem of Prescription Drug Abuse

prescription drug abuse

Prescription drug abuse and misuse have increased over the past several years. According to a research report published by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the past 15 years have seen increased visits to emergency rooms as a result of prescription medication abuse, deaths from overdoses of these drugs, and an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for prescription drug use disorders.

The NIDA research report, published in June 2020, discusses the widespread nature of prescription drug abuse. In 2017, it was estimated that 18 million people had misused prescription drugs at least once. Among 12th-grade students, prescription drug abuse is ranked fourth behind alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. Also, young people who misuse prescription drugs are more likely to use street drugs.

Prescription Drugs Most Frequently Misused

The types of prescription drugs most often abused are opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants.

Opioids are medications used to treat pain by acting on opioid receptors along the spinal column and in the brain. These drugs also control pain by affecting areas of the brain that control emotion. Drugs of this nature include Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, morphine, codeine, and fentanyl. Opioids are also used in medications for coughs (codeine) and severe diarrhea (Lomotil).

In addition to inhibiting the transmission of pain signals, opioids also cause drowsiness, mental confusion, and reduced respiration. Opioids also activate the brain’s reward centers, which can cause euphoria, particularly when taken in amounts higher than prescribed. If opioids are snorted or injected, there is an increased risk of medical issues.

As opioids react with the brain’s reward center, there is a chance of developing a dependence or addiction even if they are taken as prescribed. Since opioids interact with the part of the brainstem that controls breathing, an overdose can be fatal. According to the NIDA, opioid overdose deaths were five times higher in 2016 than in 1999.

CNS depressants are also frequently abused. These drugs include benzodiazepines, prescribed primarily for anxiety; barbiturates, used during surgical procedures and for seizure disorders; and non-benzodiazepines (also called hypnotics), prescribed for insomnia. Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin; barbiturates include Luminal and Nembutal; and hypnotics used for insomnia include Ambien, Lunesta, and Sonata.

As a class, CNS depressants have a calming effect and induce drowsiness. These medications can be addictive. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be problematic, and barbiturate withdrawal without medical supervision can be life-threatening.

Stimulants are also abused. Stimulants are prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and occasionally for depression that isn’t responding to conventional treatment. Stimulants, including Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta, increase wakefulness, motivation, learning, and memory. If misused, stimulants can lead to hostility, paranoia, psychoses, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and cardiovascular failure.

Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Symptoms of prescription drug abuse vary depending on the drug being misused. Signs of opioid abuse include drowsiness, confusion, and poor coordination. Symptoms of CNS depressant abuse are low concentration, memory problems, and slurred speech. Anxiety, agitation, and reduced appetite are symptoms of stimulant abuse.

Why Is Prescription Drug Abuse So Prevalent?

Experts at Enlightened Solutions, a drug and alcohol treatment center located in New Jersey, state that there are several reasons for the increased addiction to prescription drugs. As these drugs are only available by prescription, many people assume that these medications are less harmful than street drugs and therefore safe. Additionally, the advertising campaigns done for these medications can lead to the belief that these drugs are safe.

Although these drugs are only available by prescription, they are readily available. Prescription medications are stolen by people either for their own use or to sell. In some instances, people are willing to share prescriptions with family members and friends. Also, some people “doctor shop” or visit multiple doctors for the same complaint to obtain multiple prescriptions for their drug of choice and have them filled at different pharmacies.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Addiction

Treatment for prescription drug abuse is available and often includes detox with medical supervision and therapy. The method of therapy used for prescription drug abuse is often cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT, people learn to change unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaviors. During contingency management, another therapy method, patients are rewarded for positive behavioral change. In therapy, patients will explore the underlying painful issues in their lives or past traumas which made them more prone to developing an addiction to these drugs. They will work to develop healthy coping skills and resolve past issues.

Prescription drug abuse and misuse are serious and growing problems that can range from taking a family member’s leftover Percocet for a headache to grinding up Adderall tablets and snorting the powder. At Enlightened Solutions, we provide treatment for prescription drug abuse. We are licensed to treat co-occurring disorders, so in addition to substance abuse, we also treat the mental health issues that frequently accompany addiction. One of the treatment modalities we offer is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which is useful in treating prescription drug abuse. We provide a range of holistic therapeutic methods, including art and music therapy, equine-assisted therapy, yoga and meditation, and family constellation therapy. We also offer traditional psychotherapy and support groups rooted in the 12-Step philosophy. We are located near New Jersey’s southern shore, and we offer each client an individualized treatment plan. If you are struggling with an addiction to prescription medication or are concerned that someone close to you may be, please call us at (833) 801-5483 for more information and help.