In the United States, more than 15 million people abuse prescription drugs. This is more than the number of cocaine, hallucinogen, heroin, and inhalant abusers combined. The number of prescription drug abusers is on the rise, and the epidemic is spreading most rapidly among teens and young adults. As abuse of these drugs is on the rise, so is addiction to them. There are several factors that make prescription drugs the drug of choice for many.
Increase in Prescriptions
Doctors are prescribing more and more addictive drugs to patients. These include pain killers, muscle relaxants, antidepressants, and antianxiety medications. While these types of drugs are needed to treat disorders or symptoms in some patients, others find that they don’t need the medication, or at least not all of it, and leave an unused portion behind in their medicine cabinet.
An example of this would be a surgeon prescribing a narcotic painkiller for a patient who has undergone a procedure. They may find that their pain is manageable without the narcotics, and end up not using their medication. This unused medication can then be obtained and abused by someone else.
Most prescription drug addicts began obtaining medications from friends or family members who had unused prescription drugs on hand. Only filling prescriptions that you need, and properly disposing of unused portions of medication is something that everyone can do to help decrease prescription drug abuse.
False Sense of Safety
One of the biggest reasons that prescription medications seem so attractive to first-time drug abusers and others is that they have a lower perceived risk than illicit drugs. People assume that because these drugs have been prescribed by a doctor, they are not harmful, or are less harmful than other drugs. The truth is that the side effects associated with prescription drugs are similar to those of illicit drugs, and that prescription drugs are just as addictive as illicit drugs in many places.
Addiction to narcotic painkillers is actually feeding a rise in heroin addiction, because heroin provides similar effects to the prescription drugs, gives a stronger high, and is less expensive. Prescription drug abuse is dangerous, and puts users at risk for various side effects and addiction. Prescription drug addiction can also lead to other types of addiction.
Not everyone who is suffering from a prescription drug addiction obtained their drugs from someone else, and some of them aren’t even knowingly abusing drugs. Many people fall into the cycle of addiction to prescription medications when they have been prescribed these drugs to treat a legitimate issue.
Some may find that quitting prescription pain medications is difficult, or impossible, even after their prescription runs out and the source of their pain is healed. They may find that the dose their doctor is prescribing no longer relieves chronic pain as their tolerance builds.
Addiction can take root even in those who are using their medications to treat real health problems. This is why it’s so important to be open and honest with your doctor about your prescription medication usage, and to follow their direction exactly.
Lee Williams, LCSW, SUDC is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Substance Use Disorder Counselor. He graduated from the University of Utah with a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology with Certification in Criminology and Corrections. He is currently working on a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. His professional experience in the field of addiction has been centered on mental health and forensic social work. Lee has actively worked in a 12-step approach to the treatment of substance use disorder for over a decade. In addition to his love for working in the field of addiction, Lee’s greatest joys are in his experiences as a husband and father.