Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC)

July: Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness

July is Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Month. With prescription drug abuse at epidemic levels, this is an ideal time to address some common myths and provide some good information about safe and unsafe use of prescription drugs (Office of National Drug Control Policy).

Prescription drug abuse is defined as the use of a prescription in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor (Mayo Clinic, 2014). This could include using more of the medication than prescribed, taking the medication in a different way-such as snorting the medication instead of taking the pills-or using someone else’s medication. Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem, especially for teenagers, as prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older after marijuana and alcohol (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2015). These teens abuse prescription drugs for several reasons, including getting high, relieving pain, or helping with school work or weight loss. Boys may be more likely to abuse prescription stimulants to get high, but girls may abuse them to be alert or to lose weight (NIDA for Teens, 2015).

As with almost all other drugs, prescription drug abuse can damage the brain. Because many different prescription drugs can be abused, the type of damage that can occur also varies. However, three main categories of prescription drugs have been identified in order to aid in the understanding of the risks of this type of drug abuse.

The first category is prescription opioid pain medications. These medications attach to molecules on opioid receptors, which are found on many nerve cells throughout the body, especially those involved with pleasure and pain. The response within the brain is similar to that of heroin. Another category includes prescription stimulants; these cause a buildup of dopamine and norepinephrine, and the effects are similar to cocaine. The third category is prescription depressants, which enable a person to feel calm and relaxed. This response is similar to that of club drugs (NIDA for Teens, 2015).

Some individuals who misuse prescription drugs believe that they are safer than illicit drugs because a healthcare professional prescribes them. However, prescription drug abuse can be just as dangerous as illicit drug abuse (Office of National Drug Control Policy). Prescription drugs are usually strong medications, with significant risk for side effects and a fairly narrow safe dosage range. Doctors must take a lot of information into account when prescribing medication. Some of these factors include the patient’s weight, other medications taken, and how long he or she will be taking the medication. The form that the medication is in and the dose are important for prescription drugs as well. If someone snorts a medication that is supposed to be taken orally or takes double the amount that was prescribed, that person is at greater risk for an overdose or developing an addiction (NIDA for Teens, 2015). Side effects and drug interactions are also more likely when a medication is misused or taken without a doctor’s knowledge. This can be especially dangerous when someone is not aware of the reactions that can occur, such as sleepiness, increased blood pressure or heart rate, and slower breathing (NIDA for Teens, 2015).

Even though prescription drug abuse by teenagers is a big issue, it is important to understand that adults can abuse these substances as well. Prescription drug misuse or abuse is increasing among people over fifty; the combination of alcohol and medication misuse has been estimated to affect up to 19% of older Americans (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2014). There are several risk factors that increase the likelihood of one abusing prescription drugs. These include: past or present addictions to other substances, younger age, certain pre-existing psychiatric conditions, exposure to peer pressure or a social environmental where there is drug use, easier access to prescription drugs, and lack of knowledge about prescription drugs (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Even older adults are at risk for prescription drug abuse. Because seniors often have multiple health problems, may see multiple doctors, and take several prescription drugs, there is a significant potential for misuse, addiction, or dangerous drug interactions (Mayo Clinic, 2014).

If an individual has become addicted to prescription drugs, it is important for him or her to receive treatment. This usually includes some form of counseling in order to understand the root cause of the addiction. Counseling is very helpful because it can assist in learning skills to cope with the addiction as well as gaining strategies to assist in developing positive relationships (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Medication can be helpful in the treatment of some addictions. These medications are used in order to assist the patient with detoxification and should usually be taken under a doctor’s supervision, as withdrawal can be dangerous.

There are some basic guidelines that can help ensure the safe use of prescription drugs and reduce the risk of harm. Making sure that you are getting the correct medication is essential; this can be ensured by clearly and accurately describing your symptoms to your doctor. Additionally, it is important to read and follow the directions on your prescription carefully; do not stop or change the dose without consulting with your doctor. Learn about the side effects of your medication. Do not use another person’s prescription or allow someone else to use yours, even if you have a similar medical condition (Mayo Clinic, 2014). Store all prescription drugs out of reach of children, teens, and visitors to the home. Leftover or unneeded medications should be disposed of by following the disposal guidelines for your community. Discuss the dangers of prescription drug abuse with children and teens (Office of National Drug Control Policy). It is imperative that this prescription drug abuse decreases; make sure to do your part and follow these guidelines.

*[For more resources on the topics covered in this article, see the IPRC HOME library e-Resources accessible from IPRC homepage or at http://www.drugs.indiana.edu/search/home-library.aspx].



By Heather Dolne 7/2/2015