Just because a doctor prescribes a drug does not mean it is not without potential risks, including the risk of developing an addiction that could result in overdose and death. Many drugs used for treating a variety of illnesses share common ingredients with some of the illegal substances known for abuse.
For example, Vicodin, oxycodone, and other opioid pain medications share the effects of other opiates, such as heroin, because they are all derived from the opium poppy plant, or synthetic versions. The most commonly abused prescription medications are opioid painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants. The body can develop a tolerance and chemical dependency upon these drugs, just as it can for illegal drugs.
Although the rates for addiction, abuse, and overdoes fatalities of many illicit substances are on the decline, prescription drug abuse and death is on the rise. Today, prescription drugs cause more deaths than all other drugs combined. According to the latest data available (2011), 41,340 people in the U.S. died due to drug overdose. Out of those, 22,810 (55 percent) were due to prescription drugs.
The Danger of Opioid Pain Medication
The most deadly prescription medication, and the type most increasingly abused, are opioid painkillers. These include Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), methadone and codeine. These drugs are derived from or synthesized based on the opium poppy, and have similar effects as heroin.
In 2009, there were more than 475,000 emergency room visits due to prescription painkillers. There has been a 300 percent increase in the sale of opioid painkillers, and there has been a similar increase in deaths. In 2008, 14,800 people died due to overdose of painkillers alone, more than cocaine and heroin combined. Opioid medications contributed in some way to 74 percent of fatal overdoses.
Another commonly abused prescription drug category is sedatives, including benzodiazepines. These depress the central nervous system and are often prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and other medical issues. Common types include Xanax (alprazolam), Valium (diazepam), and Ativan (lorazepam). About 30 percent of prescription drug overdose fatalities are due to benzodiazepines.
The third most commonly abused prescription medication is stimulants. These are prescribed most commonly for attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD). Examples include Adderall (dextroamphetamine/amphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate).
What are the symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction?
There are certain risk factors and symptoms that could mean someone has developed an addiction to prescription drugs. One of the most common red flags include recurrent requests for prescription refills, as well as continually lying about having lost their prescriptions.
If someone goes through a prescription faster than intended, they might have an addiction. Additionally, stealing prescription medications, or forging prescriptions could be a sign of addiction. Another common sign is visiting multiple doctors for the same condition in order to get more prescriptions. Additionally, a person might have noticeable mood swings, increased irritability, and a change in sleep or eating patterns.
The Rate of Prescription Drug Deaths
According to the CDC, since 1990, the rate of drug overdose deaths in the United States has tripled, and 100 people die every day due to drug overdoses. The problem is more than just deaths. According to a CDC infograph based on 2008 data, for every one death, there are 10 people entering treatment facilities for abuse, 32 people entering an emergency department for the misuse or abuse of drugs, 130 people who adhere to classification for abuse or dependency, and 825 people using the drug for non-medical purposes.
Prescription drugs work on the neurotransmitters in the brain and can lead to tolerance and dependency, both of which increase a person’s risk of developing addiction or abusing the substance. It is essential to use medication under the supervision of a doctor and closely follow instructions to prevent misuse, abuse and death.