Prescription drugs are prescribed by a doctor, so they’re always safe, right? Wrong. Prescription drugs can be abused, too, and the statistics are grim.
- Each day, 44 people in the United States die from an overdose of prescription painkillers.
- One out of four teens knows a friend who abuses medicines to get high.
- Every day, nearly 3,000 teens try to abuse prescription medicines to get high for the first time.
Sometimes people mistakenly use medications the wrong way; they may take the wrong dose or take the medicine at the wrong times. That is classified as misuse, and it is not the same thing as abuse. Prescription drug abuse occurs when people take prescription drugs that weren’t prescribed for them or when they use a prescription drug in a way other than how the doctor prescribed it.
The risks are huge. In 2010, more than 400,000 emergency room visits were made related to prescription pain relievers. The ramifications of prescription drug abuse go beyond health problems and possible death by overdose: this type of drug abuse costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct healthcare costs.
The Signs of Abuse
Different drugs cause different symptoms, so it can be nearly impossible to detect prescription drug abuse based on symptoms. For example, some prescription drugs cause low blood pressure, while others cause high blood pressure. When abuse of a particular drug is suspected, it can be much easier to detect symptoms commonly associated with that drug. For example, with stimulant abuse, the symptoms may include agitation, weight loss, and insomnia.
- Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
- Taking higher doses than prescribed
- Excessive mood swings or hostility
- Increase or decrease in sleep
- Poor decision making
- Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
- Continually “losing” prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written
- Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
To begin with, it’s very important to note that even the strongest person cannot deal with prescription drug abuse alone. Fortunately, medications and counseling can improve the chances of success.
In addition to personal solutions for this issue, there must be societal solutions, as well. Dr. Robert M. Wah, president of the American Medical Association, wrote about prescription drug abuse in The Boston Globe on June 18, 2014. Among his recommendations: physicians must treat pain, but they must also be on the lookout for signs of abuse. He also said all stakeholders must work together to address this problem.
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