Do you have a friend or family member who is addicted to prescription drugs? Prescription drugs play a vital role in health care, addressing conditions as diverse as high blood pressure, diabetes, and infection, as well as countless others. While there is no doubt that these medications benefit many people, some of these drugs have a downside which is the potential for dependency and addiction. While we do need prescription drugs to manage both chronic and acute pain, some of the more commonly abused medications include prescription painkillers.
As many as 1 in 5 Americans admit to abusing a prescription drug at some point. For some, it is an isolated incident, but for too many, that abuse develops into an addiction. If you know someone who is addicted to prescription drugs, please help them see that they need professional help immediately. Addiction to opioids and opiates (painkillers) is at epidemic proportions in the US today.
Prescription Drug Addiction
Addiction occurs when a person feels compelled to take a drug, even when it will cause them to suffer adverse side effects. The person physically craves the drug and will go to great lengths to obtain it. But how does a person become addicted to prescription drugs in the first place?
Some people start out taking medication for a legitimate medical need, but some people just decide to use prescription drugs recreationally. Many prescription painkillers give the user a feeling of euphoria and well-being.Either way, over time the body becomes accustomed to the drug and becomes tolerant to the current dose. This tolerance requires a higher or more frequent dose to achieve the same effect. The body becomes dependent on the drug, and the user may experience symptoms of withdrawal without it.
Addicted to Prescription Drugs
Prescription painkillers are among the most commonly abused prescription medications. Opioid painkillers, which share the same basic chemical structure as heroin, carry the highest potential for abuse and dependency. They work by binding to receptors in the brain and spinal cord to prevent the release of a chemical called GABA. GABA normally regulates dopamine production, so when painkillers block GABA, dopamine floods the brain. This combination blocks pain messages to the brain and produces a pleasurable high.
Because opioids carry such a strong potential for habit formation, it is critical to take these drugs only when necessary. To prevent becoming addicted to prescription drugs, you must follow the doctor’s instructions for timing and dosage. The greatest risk is that an overdose of opioid painkillers can cause coma or even death. Accidental overdose is the number one cause of mortality in prescription drug addiction today.
Dangerous Prescription Drugs of Abuse
Vicodin is an opioid used to manage short-term pain. It is a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen (known over-the-counter as Tylenol). Vicodin is a tablet to be swallowed so that it will affect the brain slowly, but abusers may use other means to speed up the body’s reaction. Crushing the pills to snort or mix with water to inject into the veins provides a more rapid but more dangerous high. The most dangerous side effect is death from overdose. Other adverse side effects include:
- Decreased heart and breathing rate
- Poor judgment
- Drowsiness or loss of consciousness
Long-term Vicodin abuse can also lead to liver failure. Prolonged use of the acetaminophen in Vicodin damages the liver, leading to failure, and that failure can be fatal.
Fentanyl is a highly powerful painkiller, reserved for pain that will not respond to other medications. It is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine. Physicians prescribe fentanyl under the brand names Actiq, Duragesic, and Sublimaze. As a painkiller, doctors administer it as either an injection, a transdermal patch, or a lozenge, but abusers will modify that form to speed up absorption. For example, an abuser may break open the transdermal patch and directly consume the gel orally or inject it. The fentanyl dose that is intended for slow release over many hours rushes to the brain in a matter of minutes. Because fentanyl is such a potent opioid, rapid absorption can be deadly, and most often is. Fentanyl can lower breathing rate so quickly as to cause instant death.
Choices Recovery can help with prescription drug addiction. Call to speak with a professional counselor if you have a loved one or friend who is addicted to prescription drugs. Don’t wait until it is too late.