Prescription Drugs

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Availability and access to prescription drugs, including opioid pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives and stimulants, has become a major public health concern with the surge in overdose deaths, emergency room visits and hospitalizations due to prescription drug misuse.

While the majority of people who take prescription medications take them as intended, a significant percentage of people use prescription medications for nonmedical reasons. Prescription drug abuse can have serious health consequences on a person’s overall health and can significantly increase the risk of adverse side effects, overdoses and death, especially when a person takes them for reasons other than prescribed.

What Is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse refers to taking medications differently than prescribed or taking them without a prescription. Nonmedical use of prescription drugs refers to taking them in greater amount, more often or longer than prescribed, or without a prescription to get high.

Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

Although a significant percentage of the population that is prescribed prescription medications takes them responsibly and as intended, more than 20 percent of Americans over 12 years old report taking prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once.

The three main types of prescription drugs that are commonly abused include:

  • Opioid painkillers (e.g., codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, oxycodone, etc.), which block the sensation of pain by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the nervous system
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants (also referred to as tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics), including benzodiazepines, barbiturates and non-benzodiazepine sleep medications, which slow brain activity by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to make people feel more calm, sedated and relaxed
  • Stimulants: Stimulant medications, including amphetamines such as Adderall and methylphenidate (e.g., Concerta, Ritalin), prescription stimulants that are commonly prescribed for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which raise heart rate, blood pressure and can strain the heart, potentially having fatal cardiovascular consequences

Prevalence Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Thousands of people begin taking prescription medications for nonmedical reasons, or reasons other than prescribed, every year. In 2015, there were about 7 percent of Americans over the age of 12 who reported that they had misused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year, according to the latest data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Additionally, there were:

  • 7 percent who reported misusing opioid prescription pain relievers
  • 3 percent who reported misusing prescription tranquilizers
  • 0 percent who reported misusing prescription stimulants
  • 6 percent who reported misusing prescription sedatives

Of all age groups, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 often have the highest rates of nonmedical prescription medication use. Young people who take prescription medications for nonmedical reasons are more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink heavily and use marijuana, cocaine and other illicit drugs.

Dangers Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse has contributed to significant morbidity and mortality in the United States, as well as a dramatic rise in the number of emergency room visits, overdoses and deaths, reported the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It can contribute to harmful physical and mental health consequences, especially when used in combination with alcohol, other prescription medications and illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin.

The signs of prescription drug abuse vary greatly depending on the type of drug that is being abused. For example, prescription opioid drug abuse can be life-threatening as high doses can depress respiration to the point where breathing stops. Prescription opioid painkillers are the most commonly abused drugs and consist of more than half of all overdoses and deaths due to prescription drug abuse in the United States.

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Consequences of Prescription Drug Addiction

Most drugs of abuse, including prescription medications, affect the brain’s reward system and lead to tolerance, or the need to take more of the drug to feel “high.” People who repeatedly take prescription drugs can also develop physical dependence and experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to stop taking the medication. Withdrawals can be so severe that they prompt the person to start using the drug again, making professional prescription drug addiction treatment necessary.

Prescription drug addiction is another consequence of prescription drug abuse and misuse. Addiction is when a person compulsively takes drugs despite negative or harmful consequences that result from his or her drug use and neglects all other important areas of his or her life. One of the signs of prescription drug addiction includes secretive behavior.

Prescription Drug Rehab at Sovereign Health of Arizona

Prescription drug addiction treatment at Sovereign Health of Arizona’s Chandler facility offers comprehensive and individualized treatment plans to women who have a substance use disorder due to prescription drugs. Trauma-trained therapists provide a combination of individual and group therapy sessions, education, evidence-based treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and complementary treatments such as yoga and meditation. All aspects of women’s health and well-being are included as part of our holistic treatment approach to prescription drug rehab.

For more information about prescription drug addiction recovery or specialized treatments for mental illness and/or co-occurring disorders at Sovereign Health of Arizona’s Chandler facility, contact our 24/7 helpline.

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