When people hear the word “drugs,” chances are they think of street drugs. Marijuana’s a drug, heroin purchased on a shady corner is a drug, cocaine, MDMA and LSD are all drugs. Prescription drugs purchased from a drug store are different – they’re medicine.
Prescription drugs like painkillers and sedatives help many people; indeed, some people can’t function without them. These drugs are used in carefully measured doses for set intervals. When used properly – and by people with the symptoms and conditions these drugs treat – these drugs work. When these drugs are abused, it’s a different story. These same vacuum-sealed, factory-packed drugs can be addictive and even fatal when misused.
Prescription drugs addiction is real
Deaths from drug overdoses have been described as an epidemic, and it’s a fair description. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 47,055 people died in 2014 by drug overdose in the United States, the highest tally ever. The CDC also estimates 44 people die from very addictive every day.
Painkillers aren’t the only prescription drugs which can be abused. Benzodiazepine sedatives like Valium, Klonopin and Xanax can be very addictive if misused – or used beyond the prescribed time period. Like any other addictive substance, the body builds up tolerance as the drugs are used over long periods of time, leading to increased use and subsequent dependency. Surprisingly, withdrawal from benzos can be as challenging and unpleasant as withdrawing from heroin.
These are sobering facts, but they raise a question: if these drugs are so dangerous, why are they prescribed in the first place? Aside from the role people with the symptoms and conditions has played in the increased number of opiate addictions and deaths – drugs, even powerful painkillers, are safer when used under a physician’s supervision. Patients receive controlled amounts of the drugs and are given information on how to use the drugs responsibly.
Misuse of these drugs is dangerous, largely because users cannot keep track of the often harmful interactions drugs have with other substances. Many deaths from painkiller overdose occur because the painkillers were combined with alcohol or other drugs. This slows the individual’s breathing rate — which can lead to death. Overdose is also common after misusing the pills by crushing them into a powder and inhaling them which allows a rushed release of the drug into the system as opposed to extended release when the pills are swallowed.
Even nonprescription medication can be abused. Some cough and cold medicines like Robitussin and Coricidin contain dextromethorphan, DXM, a cough suppressant which can cause euphoria or hallucinations when abused in large amounts. According to the University of Maryland’s Center for Substance Abuse Research, when abused, DXM has dangerous side effects including “toxic psychosis,” a condition in which abusers lose contact with reality. University of California, San Francisco toxicology fellow Ann Arens, M.D., told KCRA San Francisco that calls about Coricidin abuse to the California Poison Control Center jumped to 25 percent in 2015.
The CDC recommends keeping prescription painkillers, medications and other drugs in a safe place out of the reach of others, only using them in the manner instructed by a medical professional and never sharing or selling them to others.
For help with addiction, Sovereign Health of California offers comprehensive, effective treatment programs for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Sovereign’s dual-diagnosis approach treats both addiction and the underlying co-occurring conditions which often drive substance abuse. For more information on our treatment programs, please call our 24/7 helpline.
Written by Brian Moore, Sovereign Health Group writer