Prescription Drug Abuse
A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) finds that people who use prescription pain relievers for nonmedical reason are at greater risk of heroin abuse.
The Associations of Nonmedical Pain Reliever Use and Initiation of Heroin Use in the United States, which covered the period of 2002 to 2011, revealed that 12 to 49-year olds who had used pain relievers without a doctor’s prescription were 19 times more likely to have used heroin within the past 12 months of being interviewed for the report. It also indicated that 79.5 percent of heroin users had formerly engaged in nonmedical use of pain relievers.
“Prescription pain relievers when used properly for their intended purpose can be of enormous benefit to patients, but their nonmedical use can lead to addiction, serious physical harm and even death,” Dr. Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, said in a news release. “This report shows that it can also greatly increase an individual’s risk of turning to heroin use – thus adding a new dimension of potential harm.”
Even though the report said that only 3.6 percent of those who used pain relievers without prescription went on to use heroin within five years, the findings shouldn’t be regarded very lightly given the increasing number of people, especially teens, who turn to prescription drugs to get high.
From 2007 to 2011, the number of people who reported use of heroin in the past 12 months increased from 373,000 to 620,000. Heroin dependents in the past 12 months likewise rose from 179,000 in 2007 to 369,000 in 2011. The number of people starting to use heroin the first time in the past 12 months also increased from 106,000 people to 178,000 people during the same period.
When Colorado legalized the use of recreational marijuana last year one might think it could somehow lead to an uncontrollable number of pot abusers. Surprisingly, the abuse of prescription drugs became more of a serious problem in the state than any other addictive substances.
State Attorney General John Suthers said more Coloradans are dying from prescription drug abuse than alcohol-related road accidents. In Adams County alone, 1 in 5 high school students reported abusing prescription drugs in the previous year. Nearly 15 percent of 18-to-25-year olds in the state are abusing painkillers.
Vicodin, Oxycontin and Valium are among the widely abused prescription drugs in the country, climbing from 40 million in 1991 to over 180 million in 2007.
Suthers joins other health experts and public officials taking a stand in the issue in warning people that just because Rx medicines are prescribed by doctors doesn’t mean they are safe to use recreationally. He told 9News that the state is about to begin a focused effort aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse and such effort will be felt over the next 6 to 12 months.
“We need to shore up our prescription drug monitoring program,” Suthers said. “I think we have to make it mandatory but we also have to make it very user friendly by doctors.”
A legislation aimed at fighting dextromethorphan abuse has recently won the support of New York lawmakers, and is now at Governor Andre Cuomo’s desk for final approval.
The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, directs any retail establishment to prohibit the sale of products containing dextromethorphan (DXM) to persons under 18 without a valid prescription.
“Too many of our teens are abusing this medicine to get high,” Jaffee said during a press conference at South Orangetown Middle School early this month.
Jaffee began working on the bill two years ago after hearing stories about the negative impact of DXM abuse. She did her research on the topic, review the dangers of peer pressure, and assess how poor discussion about the problem is destroying the lives of the country’s future generation.
Similar legislation is already in place several counties including Westchester, Suffolk and Nassau County. But Jaffee’s bill will enforce the age restriction on a state level. Once Gov. Cuomo signs the bill, a $250 fine will be imposed to those who will be caught violating the provisions of the new law.
“I think the bill is going to make a huge difference. It will deny access. And once you deny access, you raise awareness,” Jaffe noted. “It’s a very important step.”
The White House Office on National Drug Policy declared prescription drug abuse as the fastest-growing drug problem in America. A recent study showed that in just five years the number of teens who are misusing prescription medicine had climbed to about 5 million, with 20 percent of them saying they started abusing Rx medications before age 14.
Surprisingly, teenagers can tell you dozens of reasons why they are turning to prescription drugs even though they are in perfectly good health. Adderall and Ritalin, for instance, are getting widespread attention lately because some teens are using them to improve academic performance. But aside from understanding teenage angst it is in your best interest to also know the pills that could attract your child’s attention.
This pain-reliever is often prescribed in people with arthritis, cancer, and other medical conditions whose symptoms include chronic and sever pain. It effectively eases pain if taken under prescribed dosages. However, the drug can be abused by being snorted or injected, producing a quick and powerful “high” that is said to be comparable with the feeling of taking heroin.
Among the negative side effects of OxyContin include drowsiness, weakness, nausea, impaired coordination, confusion, addiction, coma, even death due to overdose.
Although getting high is what drives many teens to abuse prescription drugs, others do so to address personal issues. Ambien abuse, for example, can occur because a person wants to experience sedating effects. But some teens are taking their spontaneity to a higher level by taking the drug with alcohol, which proves to be even more dangerous. Among the side effects of the drug include slowed breathing, lowered blood pressure, memory loss, hallucinations, unconsciousness, confusion, impaired coordination, coma, and death.
This brand of stimulant is used to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Teens are especially prone to abuse the drug because it is believed to help them lose weight or study better. What teenagers don’t know is that taking Concerta outside of the prescribed method can be very dangerous and lead to paranoia, schizophrenia, or psychosis. Other negative side effects of the drug include increase or decrease in blood pressure and digestive problems.
A prescription medication classified as a benzodiazepine, Xanax is used to treat panic disorder as well as manage anxiety disorder or temporarily relieve anxiety symptoms. One of the reasons teens abuse the drug is because it gives feelings of well-being and lowered inhibitions. But it could also lead to irritability, drowsiness, memory problems, lack of focus and coordination, confusion, tremors, depression, hostility, seizures, chest problem, and hallucination.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has awarded East Tennessee State University more than $2 million to launch a five-year research program aimed at fighting prescription drug abuse.
Dr. Robert Pack, the principal investigator on the grant, professor and associate dean for Academic Affairs at the ETSU College of Public Health, said the research initiative will be especially relevant to the Southern Appalachia region where the Rx abuse epidemic is disproportionally high.
“Prescription drug abuse is a disease, plain and simple, and it affects people from all walks of life,” Dr. Pack said in a news release. “I would say that most everyone in our region knows someone personally – a friend or a family member – who has been caught in the grip of it, or still is.”
Dr. Pack and his team will study how improving communication among health care providers who prescribe drugs, pharmacists who dispense them, and the patients who receive them can reduce illicit use of prescription medicines. They will also study how well health care providers think that they communicate with patients about substance abuse, and how prepared they feel to intervene in cases of suspected substance abuse. The researchers will also quantify outcomes of drug take-back events and drug donation boxes where substances with potential for abuse are removed from households.
“This won’t be just an academic exercise,” Pack added. “Through our research on improving communication among providers, prescribers and patients, we intend to develop real solutions to reduce the impact of prescription drug abuse in our region.”
Anyone who’s gone to school can accurately describe the challenges of being a student. But unlike in highschool the pressures that come with those pursuing higher education are much more unbearable, prompting some college students to use certain prescription drugs to gain academic advantage.
Lately, we have been hearing news about the increasing number of students who are using Ritalin and Adderall to help them study for finals week. But this problem isn’t exactly new and so are the ways students access the drugs. A 2005 New York Times report cited surveys that showed 20 percent of college students were relying on Ritalin and Adderall to study, write papers and take exams.
In 2006, another study emerged concluding that more than 75 percent of college students were using Ritalin and Adderall to boost academic competitiveness.
NPR has also run a story in 2009, highlighting the illegal use of Ritalin and Adderall, with one student confessing how Adderall makes her excited and motivated in doing her school work.
Then in 2011, CNN interviewed University of Kentucky professor and researcher Alan DeSantis who said Adderall is abused more than marijuana. He found that 30 percent of students at the university have illegally used Adderall and Ritalin to handle academic demands. His study also showed that the use of ADHD drugs were more prevalent in upperclassmen.
But whether or not Ritalin and Adderall are effective in improving academic performance experts say their side effects shouldn’t be taken for granted. Under federal law, these drugs are Schedule II substances which means they can only be obtained with a prescription. And there is a reason for that: both drugs pose a risk of abuse despite their high level of usefulness.
Dr. Raymond Kotwicki, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry at Emory University’s school of medicine in Atlanta, told CNN that while Adderall or Ritalin could make a student’s life easier it’s onyl temporary. “…in the long run there are significant problems both in terms of thinking, mood problems, maybe even functionality,” he explained.
And like other stimulant drugs, the so-called study drugs could result to increased heart and breathing rates. For some students with no legitimate reason to use Ritalin or Adderall, the drugs could make them feel excited, happy, and energetic. For others, they could cause agitation, irritability, and anxiety.
Last week, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer urged New York colleges and universities to tighten their standards so that it would become more difficult for college students to obtain ADHD drugs, saying that at least 14 to 35 percent of college students nationwide are taking Ritalin and Adderall as a study tool.
“When used properly to treat a legitimately diagnosed attention disorder, drugs like Adderall and Ritalin can help students focus and learn, but all too often these cases are the minority on college campuses. Plain and simple: using Adderall as a study drug is academic doping, and what’s more, it can lead to abuse and serious negative effects like depression, anxiety, and in some cases, psychosis,” Schumer said at a conference call.
Other side effects of the drugs include hypertension, seizures, mydriasis, elevate blood pressure, depression, and even psychosis. And even if the drugs are not abused common side effects include lack of appetite, increased blood pressure, headache, dry mouth, insomnia and weight loss.