Millions of people live longer healthier lives because of prescription drugs. However, not taking medications as directed or using another one’s medications can be devastating or even deadly. According to the National Institutes of Health, prescription drug abuse is common in the United States.
In a research update from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (March 2008), about 7.0 million persons were current users of psychotherapeutic drugs for nonmedical reasons in 2006.
The deaths of Michael Jackson and Heath Ledger have been associated with dangerous combinations of prescribed drugs, according to the National Institutes of Health. This may show that celebrities are not immune to medication abuse as well. Fact is, improper use of prescription medications can affect people of all ages, regardless of race or nationality, celebrity or not. In a federal survey conducted in 2008, it was found that about 1 in 5 people ages 12 and older said that they’ve taken a prescription drug for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetimes.
The National Institutes of Health is concerned about opioid use among high school students as well. Dr. Wilson Compton of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Drug Abuse says, “About 1 in 10 twelfth graders report non-medical use of Vicodin during the past year, and about 1 in 20 abused OxyContin.”
There are many reasons why people abuse prescription drugs. This includes getting high, losing weight, or building up on muscles. But, according to the National Institutes of Health, this medication abuse can pose serious risk of addiction. Also, taking prescription drugs for the wrong reasons can cause other health problems including irregular heartbeats, seizures, breathing problems and personality changes. Combining drugs with other substances like alcohol can put a person at risk having other health problems as well.
There are 3 categories of drugs most commonly abused, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. They are: stimulants like Adderall, Dexedrine and Ritalin, which are commonly prescribed for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; depressants, such as Ativan, Valium and Xanax, which are often prescribed for the treatment of anxiety, panic attacks and sleep disorders; and painkillers.
Painkillers such as opioids, which include morphine, codeine, hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (such as OxyContin, Percodan or Percocet), when taken as prescribed can effectively relieve pain and rarely does it cause addiction. However, abuse of opioids and other painkillers, which is sometimes taken in combination with other drugs, may lead to drug overdose death.
According to Compton, “There’s a myth that prescription drugs are safe because they come from a drugstore. But when people take them outside of a doctor’s supervision, we don’t necessarily know how dangerous they can be.” Compton added, “A dose that’s perfectly safe for one person who’s taken the drug for a long time may be potentially lethal for another.”
The National Institutes of Health is not lowering its guard regarding prescription drug abuse. The institution is conducting several studies to learn more about prescription drug abuse and who’s at risk for addiction. “We’re also working to develop better treatments for pain that might be less addictive or less likely to be abused,” says Compton.
Health care providers advise people who take prescription medications that they should take them as prescribed to prevent unwanted consequences.
Medications: Use as Directed – The Risk of Prescription Drug Abuse (October 2009). National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Prescription Drug Abuse – A Research Update (March 2008). National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)