Bad Medicine-Identifying Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drugs are those prescribed by a doctor for specific reasons. Doctors prescribe medications for children and adults, and all types of prescribed medications can be abused. Many people think in terms of illegal drugs such as cocaine and marijuana when they think about drug abuse. Prescription drugs are just as likely to be abused as are illegal drugs. In fact, prescription drugs may be easier to abuse because they are readily available from doctors. 

Prescription drug abuse is when people use prescribed medicines for something other than the intended purpose of the drug or take more than the recommended dosage. Prescription drug abuse can also include doctor shopping, which means a person sees different doctors trying to get more prescriptions written for a drug. The National Institute for Drug Addiction estimates that 20 percent of people have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. Within that 20 percent, a small percent is adolescents who take prescription drugs without a medical need for it.

The leading cause of prescription drug abuse is accessibility. Doctors are quick to prescribe medications for any complaint. Online pharmacies also give access to medications, many times without verifying the age of the buyer. Some people also feel that since the drug is prescribed it isn’t as dangerous as an illegal street drug. However, stimulants and narcotics are addictive drugs that are just as dangerous as illegal street drugs. According to the website Prescription Drug Abuse, around 43 percent of drug overdose admissions to the hospital were due to prescription drugs. Once a person becomes addicted to a prescription drug, the need for the drug becomes stronger and a resistance can build up as the person’s body learns how to handle higher and higher doses of the drug. 

People who use prescription drugs to control pain can become addicted because they like how the drug makes them feel. The pain is gone and the person can function fairly normally. To increase that feeling, the person may take more than the recommended dose, slowly building up a tolerance to the drug. Once a tolerance builds, the person needs more and more of the drug to curb the pain. Young kids abuse prescription drugs because they enjoy the effects of the drug on their body. Many kids also find it easier to abuse prescription drugs because their parents may have a medicine chest full of easily accessible drugs. 

The first sign that a person has a prescription drug problem is the incessant need for the drug. If a person carries the drug on them, tries to refill the drug before the allowed time, visits different doctors to get more prescriptions for the drug, and asks friends and family if they have any extras of the drug then it's possible they are, or are becoming, addicted to the drug. Physical signs can include sleeplessness, rapid energy followed by extreme tiredness, deteriorating dental health, slowed speech, confusion, and sudden weight loss or gain. People addicted to prescription drugs may also become violent, quick tempered, and feel depressed or paranoid.

The most common types of abused prescription drugs include narcotics, stimulants, and sedatives. Heavily abused narcotics include morphine, codeine, and oxycodone. Commonly abused sedatives include Valium, mephobarbital, and Xanax. Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin, drugs commonly used to treat ADHD in children, are also often abused. As with any addiction or substance abuse problem, there are treatments and therapies available for people needing help.

 The following resources provide more information about prescription drug abuse: 

  • NIDA The National Institute of Drug Abuse has in-depth information about prescription drug abuse, including how certain prescriptions affect the body.

  • University of Texas The information provided by UT gives prescription drug abuse information based on region and has statistics on people entering treatment(.pdf file).

  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration This federal website gives information about the laws and regulations regarding drug abuse, both prescription and illegal.

  • Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement This website has useful information for medical professionals who want help determining if a patient is abusing prescription drugs(.pdf file).

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