Prescription drug abuse is the misuse of a prescribed medication other than the way in which a doctor has designated it to be used. Many prescription drugs can be abused, but most commonly opioids, anti-anxiety medications, and stimulants are abused because they are fast-acting and short-lasting in nature. Opioids such as Oxycontin and Percocet, anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Valium, and stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are some of the most commonly abused prescription medications.

And with the rise in the prescription drug abuse epidemic, drug rehab centers — including drug rehab centers in Utah — are focused on the problem.

For more on prescription drug abuse, see Opioid Addiction Is A Public Health Emergency; Opioid Addiction Treatment Is Strengthening

Why Does Prescription Drug Abuse Start?

There are many reasons a person may start to abuse prescription medications, but being young and/or dealing with chronic pain are two common variables in people who abuse these medications. Younger individuals are less likely to be educated on the deleterious effects of prescription abuse, and people managing chronic pain may simply begin abusing their medications to find relief when otherwise they have not been able to ease their symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic, an academic, research-based medical non-profit, has defined a set of other common reasons for prescription drug abuse:

  • To feel good or get high
  • To relax or relieve tension
  • To reduce appetite or increase alertness
  • To experiment with the mental effects of the substance
  • To maintain an addiction and prevent withdrawal
  • To be accepted by peers or to be social
  • To try to improve concentration and academic or work performance

Behind every addiction is a justification for use and misuse, but these reasonings can be dangerous – and even deadly – when used to spur a prescription medication abuse disorder. Prescription drugs are the most abused substances behind alcohol and marijuana – the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 15 million Americans abused prescription drugs in the past year, and 6.5 million did so in the past month. These rates have increased from the late 1990’s to the 2010’s as opioid sales increased four-fold and, subsequently, so have deaths and substance abuse treatment center admissions.

Developing a prescription drug abuse addiction is perhaps easier than other addictions primarily due to the ease of access of the medications. Once prescribed a medication, like an opioid, by a physician, the patient must adhere to strict guidelines about use and pain management in order for the medications to be effective. There is also a misconception that prescription drugs can provide a “safe” high, a myth that is commonly believed due to a lack of education on the effects of prescription drug misuse.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

As evident from information gathered by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the reality is that prescription drug misuse is devastating:

  • The total economic burden in the United States of opioid misuse is calculated at $78.5 billion a year.
  • 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8-12% of patients prescribed opioids develop an opioid use disorder.
  • Every day, over 115 million people die of opioid overdoses.
  • As of 2011, “more than 1.2 million ED visits in 2011 could be attributed to nonmedical use of prescription drugs; this represents about half (50.5 percent) of all ED visits related to drug misuse.” – The Drug Abuse Warning Network
  • More than 30% of overdoses from opioids involved benzodiazepines, a prescription-based sedative used to treat anxiety or sleep issues.
  • Between 2005 and 2011 Emergency Room visits for pharmaceutical stimulant abuse for people ages 18-34 increased from 5,605 to 22,949 visits.

Prescription drugs may begin as something that helps alleviate pain and manage chronic distress. However, their use needs to be closely monitored due to the addictive nature of many of these fast-acting, short-lasting medications.

If you are addicted to a prescription drug, seeking treatment in Utah in a structured setting and with a personally defined program may be the best option to curtail the misuse. Understanding how prescription drug abuse starts can help you identify signs of misuse and seek appropriate treatment from an educated perspective.

Moms and Drug Abus

Ten years ago, it was reported that at least 18 million women aged 26 and older take prescription medications for unintended purposes.  Today, that number is even higher, and many of those abusing drugs include women who are moms.  Some are surprised to find out how many moms deal with drug abuse, but it must be remember that no one is immune to addiction and drug abuse.  Moms are just as vulnerable to drug abuse as anyone else and may turn to drugs to avoid guilt, stress, boredom, or any number of other things.  Today, an increasing number of moms are becoming addicted to pain medications.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs by moms include: sedatives, muscle relaxants, and opioid painkillers. Just like so many others, most moms started out their drug use legitimately—that is, they received a prescription from their doctor for a valid health issue.  However, some moms continue to use and abuse the drug they were safely prescribed after their treatment for the health issue is resolved.

Further, other drug addictions that seem to be rising with moms include alcohol addiction and abuse, and marijuana use.  Becoming aware of triggers that may turn moms toward drug abuse can stop the addictions before they start.  These triggers increase vulnerability and include: past trauma (such as being abused as a child), a family history of drug abuse problems, a history of drug or alcohol addiction, and the presence of mental health conditions (such as depression).

Also noteworthy is that many moms experience depression and stress after giving birth and these heightened reactions to the hormonal changes and lifestyle changes that occur can increase a mom’s vulnerability to addiction. In fact, any period of heightened stress increases the risk of using and depending on prescription drugs to feel better.

A main reason for the rise in prescription drug abuse by moms is the same as for everyone else: prescription drugs can be obtained and purchased relatively easy.  Moms may lie or or buy from less legitimate pharmacies online in order to maintain their drug habits.  These factors have directly impacted the rise in prescription drug abuse among all groups of people.  Some people simply think that if a doctor prescribes medicine it will not cause any harm.  Understanding side effects and addiction tendencies, and drugs that build tolerance, can also prevent further drug abuse issues. It is important to remember that no on is immune to addiction, even moms.

source: workingmother.com

Ritalin Addiction

With all of the media focus on opioid addiction and prescription painkiller regulating, other drugs that are addicting get overlooked, like Ritalin.  Ritalin is often prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  It helps with focus and attention.  Recently, Ritalin abuse has been seen on college campuses where students are taking the drug (and often becoming addicted to it’s effects) in order to study longer and more effectively or to test better due to improved focus.  However, many do not realize the addictive nature of Ritalin and the risks associated with taking it when it’s not necessary.

For instance, when individuals who have not been prescribed the drug continue to take Ritalin in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, when they can’t meet their obligations without Ritalin use, and/or feel intense urges to take Ritalin they are definitely experiencing signs of addiction.  Further, if individuals find themselves increasing their Ritalin dose over time to maintain the same effect, take Ritalin in situations where it may not be safe to do so, or are spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of Ritalin, those symptoms are also red flags of addiction as well.

Treatment for Ritalin addiction is similar to other drug addiction treatment.  Detox needs to occur in a safe medically monitored supervised setting.  Following up with therapy and counseling can then strengthen the individual against returning to Ritalin abuse and addiction.

Benzo Use on the Rise?

A recent article published in the American Journal of Public Health titled, Increasing and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996–2013, by Marcus A. BachhuberMD, MSHP, Sean HennessyPharmD, PhD, Chinazo O. CunninghamMD, MS, and Joanna L. StarrelsMD, MS indicates that benzo use is on the rise in a big way in the US.

The study examined correlations and trends in benzo prescriptions and overdoses in US adults. Benzodiazepines are defined by webmd.com as, “a type of medication known as tranquilizers. Familiar names include Valium and Xanax. They are some of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. When people without prescriptions obtain and take these drugs for their sedating effects, use turns into abuse.” The aforementioned study found that the increase in adults filling benzo prescriptions from 1996 to 2013 was 4.1% and the overdose rate increased significantly (more than 5 times the rate at the start of the study) as well although overdoses from benzos seems to have plateaued. The study further showed that the quantity of filled benzo prescriptions is also increasing. Although a plateau seems to be happening among most adult individuals in the US, the study pointed to evidence that overdose in older adults and racial/ethnic minorities is continuing to rise. Further, there were no signs of decreased use of benzos throughout the course of the study.

This information is important in that it shows a need to reduce benzo prescriptions or at least improve the safety of their use. The study indicated that, “In 2013, an estimated 22 767 people died of an overdose involving prescription drugs in the United States. Benzodiazepines, a class of medications with sedative, hypnotic, anxiolytic, and anticonvulsant properties, were involved in approximately 31% of these fatal overdoses.”


Top 10 most abused drugs

Recent statistics show that there has been a slight shift in the top 10 most commonly abused drugs. The most noteworthy is marijuana, moving from 3rd place to 2nd place recently. Most speculate this is due on part to the legalization of recreational marijuana in many parts of the country.

1-Alcohol: The CDAC notes that, “with over half (51.8%) of U.S. population identified as drinkers, alcohol is the #1 most abused substance. Nearly a quarter of the population participates in binge drinking (58.6 million), and 6.7% of the population reported heavy drinking (16.9 million). As a depressant, alcohol produces impaired coordination and judgment, slurred speech, and blackouts.”

2- Marijuana: Marijuana is the #1 most abused illicit drug and the third most abused drug according to the CDAC. The CDAC reports that, “the dried parts of the Cannabis plant can cause distorted perceptions, impaired coordination and problems with learning and memory.”

3- Tobacco: At least one quarter of Americans (6.9 million) are users of a tobacco product making it the second most abused drug. Many individuals are drawn to smoking because it stimulates the pleasure centers in the brain and turn on the body’s natural chemicals that produce euphoria. Cigarette smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, causing long-term systemic effects. These risks include high blood pressure and smoking has been proven to increase the risk of cancer.

4-Prescription painkillers: The abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise and has moved up in ranking to be the fourth most abused type of drug. Painkillers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, are the most abused prescription drugs. These drugs can produce effects similar to heroin. Painkillers can have negative effects on the physical body causing heightened sensitivity to sound and light, hallucinations, blackouts and problems with the lungs, central nervous system, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, heart and death from overdose.

5-Cocaine: Although cocaine gained popularity back in the 1980’s, it still remains on the top 10 list of most abused drugs: listed as the fifth most abused. According to the CDAC, nearly 1.5 million people in America are current users of this white powder. Cocaine use results in severe psychological dependence and intense drug cravings. This is due to cocaine’s short-lived yet powerful effects of euphoria. With cocaine, tolerance builds quickly, making it more dangerous.

6- Prescription Sedatives: The most common sedatives are benzodiazepines and tranquilizers. Approximately 2.4 million people in the U.S. are using sedatives for non-medical purposes. These are highly addictive and can cause memory loss, poor motor coordination, paranoia, stupor, suicidal thoughts, aggression, respiratory depression and coma. Mixing sedatives with alcohol is very dangerous and can cause death.

7- Prescription Stimulants: Prescription stimulant drugs have a high addictive rate and about 1.2 million Americans are currently taking prescription stimulants for non-medical purposes. These stimulants, such as Ritalin or Adderall, are usually prescribed for people who have narcolepsy or ADHD. These drugs increase the level of dopamine in the brain causing feelings of euphoria. Abuse of stimulants can cause heart attacks, strokes, depression, malnutrition, hostility and paranoia. Because stimulants increase energy and focus, teenagers are abusing the drug because they believe it will enhance their learning and test scores. The abuse of these drugs has increased significantly on college campuses across the country.

8- Hallucinogens (LSD, ecstasy): Approximately 1.1 million people are currently taking hallucinogens in the U.S. Hallucinogenic drugs are known as PCP, mescaline, Ecstasy, LSD and psilocybin mushrooms. These drugs cause hallucinations and profoundly affect the perception of reality. Some negative effects of using hallucinogenic drugs are delusions, paranoia, panic, terror, despair, psychosis, and psychological illness. Flashbacks from some of these drugs may occur at anytime after using the drug. LSD is reported to be the most popular hallucinogen among users. LSD, also known as “acid,” is the most potent hallucinogen in the world. It is often sold on blotting paper, or “window panes.” The effects of LSD are unpredictable, altering the user’s mood, personality, and sensations of reality. (CDAC, 2012).

9- Heroin: Heroin is known as the most powerful and addictive drug in the world and its use is increasing in the U.S. Heroin induces euphoria by binding to the opioid receptors that control consciousness, breathing and blood pressure. Long-term effects of using heroin include collapsed veins, partial paralysis, memory loss, intellectual impairment, and disease of the heart, liver and kidneys. Heroin is often diluted with other substances creating a high risk of physical complications and death. It is made from poppy plants and is a highly addictive opiate. It can be injected, smoked, or sniffed and creates a feeling of a euphoric rush. Users feel an increased ability to communicate easily with others, and report heightened sexual performance.

10-Methamphetamine: The tenth most abused drug is methamphetamine, also known as meth, crank, or speed. Although last on the list, it shouldn’t be ignored. Meth is popular among young adults. Meth produces feelings of well-being and energy which can last from 4 to 16 hours. Because of its lasting effects, it is a popular drug for both parties and nightclubs. Meth is highly addictive, and burns up the body’s resources and can cause permanent damage to the brain and body.


Law Enforcement Should be Allowed to Prosecute Unnecessary Prescriptions 

When drug epidemic arise, society and loved ones affected by the abuse often want justice and want the dealers of the drugs prosecuted to the fullest extent. With the recent opioid heroin epidemic in the last few years, however, more and more of us are recognizing that the problem often lies with board certified physicians who are overprescribing or unnecessarily prescribing opioids and allowing their patients to develop addictions. Although many are hesitant to prosecute physicians for their crime, Alan Santos, the chief executive of Avantha Solutions Inc. and a former associate deputy assistant administrator of the U.S. Drug Administration, feels that prosecuting the small number of doctors and other practitioners who knowingly overprescribe powerful controlled substances, on a range of charges, is exactly what should be happening.

Many patients truly need opioids to deal with pain and have legitimate reasons for being prescribed these substances. However, the epidemic of prescription drug overdoses in the United States involving opioids and heroin is on the rise in a huge way according to the Centers for Disease Control. Many practitioners prescribe opioids and individuals become addicted but turn to heroin later because it is cheaper and easier to obtain. However, it should be noted that most physicians take prescribing opioids very seriously and recognize the law that a prescription for an opioid must be issued for a legitimate medical purpose.

Santos also indicated that, “opioid addiction is a disease and a public health crisis, and it needs to be treated as such. That said, as a part of the controlled substance supply chain, like manufacturers, distributors and pharmacies, doctors have legal responsibilities to ensure these powerful drugs don’t get diverted for illicit purposes.”

If there is evidence that a practitioner is involved in an individual’s overdose involving prescribing opioids, law enforcement needs to be allowed to fight and prosecute against this problem.



Signs of Elderly Prescription Drug Abuse

Drug abuse among the elderly is on the rise. The overuse and abuse of prescription medication is the most common form of drug abuse in the elderly. Although less than 13 percent of the U.S. population is 65 years and older, they consume approximately one-third of all medications prescribed. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that “elderly persons use prescription medications three times as frequently as the general population and have the poorest rates of compliance with directions for taking medications. It is now estimated that 17 percent of persons aged 60 or older are affected by prescription drug abuse.”(nih.gov)

There are key things to look for if you are concerned that your loved one is abusing prescription drugs. More specifically, familydoctor.org gives the following are things to look for to determine if an older adult might be abusing prescription drugs:

“A person who is addicted to a prescription drug may:

  • Get a prescription for the same medicine from two different doctors
  • Fill a prescription for the same medicine at two different pharmacies
  • Take more of a prescription medicine than they used to or take more than is instructed on the label
  • Take the medicine at different times or more often than is instructed on the label
  • Have behavior changes, such as becoming more withdrawn or angry
  • Often think or talk about a medicine
  • Be afraid to go without taking a medicine
  • Be uncomfortable or defensive when you ask about the medicine
  • Make excuses for why they need a medicine
  • Store “extra” pills in their purse or in their pocket
  • Sneek or hide medicine
  • Have been treated for alcohol, drug, or prescription drug abuse in the past”(familydoctor.org)

The two most commonly prescribed and abused drugs among the elderly are narcotic analgesics and sedative-hypnotic drugs. These drugs, designed to kill pain and help sleep are part of the abuse of prescription drugs by the elderly that is a growing problem in the U.S.


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