Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that is silently sweeping the nation. Illicit street drug abuse such as cocaine and ecstasy are on the down fall while prescription drug abuse is climbing. The population with the highest risk of abusing prescription drugs typically ranges from teenagers to young adults. According to Richard Friedman (2006), kids have characterized the use of prescription drugs as “‘responsible,’ ‘controlled,’ or ‘safe.’” The growing popularity of prescription drugs “reflects that these drugs are safer than street drugs.” This belief is actually false. Many believe that because prescription drugs are prescribed by doctors they are actually safer, when in fact they are just as dangerous and illicit street drugs. In fact, there are many recognized health problems associated with the non-medical use of prescription drugs, which are becoming more evident in the media as an increasing number of tragic sudden death cases are reported (Hamilton, 2009). It is just as easy for one to overdose on prescription drugs as it is for one to overdose on crack, meth, or any other illegal drug. There are also just as many health problems associated with prescription drug abuse, but many do not realize that.
There are three major types of prescription drugs prescribed to patients. These include: narcotic analgesics, CNS depressants, and stimulants. Narcotic analgesics would be considered painkillers. Narcotic analgesics are drugs that relieve pain and can cause a state of unconsciousness. Morphine, vicodin, oxycontin, and oxycodone are classified as narcotics. They are often prescribed to patients with long-term, chronic, pain. They can also be prescribed after small surgeries, or dental work. Of prescription drugs, pain relievers are the most widely abused and easily addictive. According to Glen Hanson and Peter Venturelli (2014), “there are more than forty deaths caused by prescription painkillers everyday in the United States.” This is a pretty large number that could easily be prevented. Also, prescription painkillers are very expensive. “The overall cost of prescription painkiller abuse is $70 billion per year.” Because prescription painkiller use is not exactly highly monitored, “nearly seventy percent of those who misuse prescription painkillers obtain their drugs from friends or relatives…” (Hanson & Venturelli, 2014). Prescription drugs are just much easier to access than street drugs, making them more appealing to users, especially younger generations.
After being addicted to painkillers, it is very hard for recovering addicts to remain sober. There are too many times where the media highlights certain celebrities going to rehab to seek help for painkiller abuse. There are also too many times that one hears about the death of a young person or celebrity due to overdoses on opiods. Painkillers are extremely dangerous because when taken, they are not supposed to be mixed with other drugs. Mixing pain killers and alcohol, for example, can lead to unconsciousness and death because alcohol increases the effect of the painkiller. Also, mixing other prescription drugs with narcotic analgesics can also cause death too. Painkillers are considered somewhat easy to receive. Those seeking narcotic analgesics can often attend “pill mills (pain clinics), falsify symptoms/documentation,” or go “pain doctor/pharmacy shopping (Rigg, March, Inciardi, 2010). This means that people will lie about their symptoms just to get painkillers from doctors or they will go to multiple doctors in hopes of getting multiple pain prescriptions. Another infamous way people get painkillers is by theft, sharing with friends, or buying them off the streets. No matter how people get them, painkillers are by far the most dangerous prescription drugs available.
Another form of prescription drugs are central nervous system (CNS) depressants reduce CNS activity and diminish the brain’s level of awareness. Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Ativan, and Valium are often classified as CNS depressants. Other CNS depressants, such as barbiturates, which include Luminal and Phenobarbital cause a mild depression of the CNS and relaxation. Hypnotics are also included as CNS depressants. These pills are CNS depressants that encourage sleep by inducing drowsiness. Some hypnotics include: Ambien, Rozerem, and Lunesta (Hanson et al., 2014). CNS depressants are also highly abused and not very hard to get. CNS depressants are normally prescribed to people who have anxiety issues, problems sleeping, etc. Because a doctor is not at home with the patient and does not know whether they truly have issues sleeping or struggle with anxiety or depression, they are more likely to prescribe patients CNS depressants. CNS depressants can be as addictive as painkillers, and can also cause other problems. Just like painkillers, mixing CNS depressants with alcohol or other drugs can also lead to death or unconsciousness. Michael Jackson is an example of a celebrity who overdosed on CNS depressants and passed away. According to Alan Duke (2013), during the autopsy, the coroner found that Jackson had six types of depressants in his system, none of which were supposed to be mixed. These included: Propofol (an anesthetic), Lorazempam (a benzodiazepine), Midazolam (a sedative), Valium, Lidocaine (an anesthetic), and Ephedrine (a stimulant). It is ridiculous that an actual doctor knew that Jackson was prescribed these many pills, and not only continued to prescribe him more, but also allowed him to continue and take so many. Clearly this incident demonstrates that CNS depressants and other drugs should not be mixed, especially as many as Michael Jackson was taking. Sedatives and hypnotics are especially dangerous because they induce sedation and taking too much can cause an overdose and death. Movies and television shows have publicized this as a way of committing suicide. It shows users that an easy and peaceful way out is to take too many sleeping pills and never wake up. This should not be shown within television shows and movies because it can give people who are contemplating suicide an idea and an easy way to commit the act.
The last form of prescription pills are stimulants. The most commonly prescribed stimulants are Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulants are often prescribed to patients with ADHD. Stimulants can also help in the aid of weight loss and also improve attention while controlling impulsivity and disruptive behavior. Because prescription stimulants improve attention, they are widely abused among college students. According to Amelia Arria and Eric Wish (2006), “it is estimated that 4.1 million people twelve and older have tried prescription stimulants without a physician’s prescription at least once in their lifetime.” This study was done in 2003, so it can only be assumed that numbers have increased to the present, especially since awareness of stimulants has grown. The abuse of stimulants is likely to increase as students start college, “full-time college students reported higher use of stimulants than non-college students in the same age group (5.7% versus 2.5%) (Arria et al. 2006). This is because college is such a stressful time for young adults. Stimulants aid in students being able to write papers better, perform better on tests, and increase overall performance within the classroom. Students believe stimulants have all of these positive effects, and remain unaware of the negative effects. Stimulants cause increased heart rate, which if overdosed on, stimulants can cause heart failure. Stimulants can also cause users to “crash” or become very tired after use. Along with other prescription drug abuse, mixing stimulants with other drugs can also increase a likelihood of negative effects, or even death. If a stimulant is taken with a depressant, it can be very dangerous because both are antagonistic of each other, meaning the cancel or block out the effects of the other. Often users would take both to cancel a negative side effect of one. For example, Ambien can cause hallucinations and loopy effects if users fight the drowsiness effect and stay awake. In order to do this, users might mix Ambien with Adderall in order to stay awake. If too much is mixed, the body may not know how to react and it can lead to an emergency room visit or even death.
Prescription drug abuse can cause a multitude of negative health effects. Death being the worst, prescription drugs can basically affect every part of the body. Those who abuse prescription drugs put themselves at a much higher risk for cardiovascular and respiratory failure, seizures, stroke, and other physical and mental health problems. Opiods can cause choking, decreased cognitive function, changes in mood, decreased cognitive function, interruptions in the menstrual cycle, infertility and slowed breathing. There’s even a risk of coma or death if there’s a severe slowdown in breathing. CNS depressants can lead to memory problems and seizures. Using some stimulants even in the short term can trigger paranoia; high doses can cause an increase in body temperature and abnormal heartbeat. There’s also a risk of cardiovascular problems and fatal seizures (“The Dangers of Misused Prescription Drugs”). Clearly there are many severely negative effects that most people would never want to go through. Not to mention, abuse of prescription drugs can lead to addiction. Addiction can lead to thousands of dollars in treatment costs or costs to sustain the addiction. Addiction and abuse can also cause disappointment from family and friends and can lead to severed ties with loved ones. Clearly prescription drug abuse is not a good route for anyone to embark upon. More information and precautions need to be put in place to prevent this issue.
As stated before, prescription drugs are just so much easier to get than illicit street drugs. According to a study, sixty percent of people who obtained prescription drugs got them from peers, 16.8 percent obtained them from a medical professional, and 4.3 percent bought them from a drug dealer (Hamilton, 2009). If the majority of prescription drugs are being obtained via peers or a licensed doctor, people are more likely to go the easier, and probably cheaper route, as opposed to dealing with drug dealers. In today’s society, it is fascinating that the public is not more informed and that prescription drugs are not monitored more heavily. Although there are some precautions in place for abusers, it is still way too easy for people to get their hands on prescription medications. Some of these problems occur due to leftover prescription drugs found in family or friends’ medicine cabinets. Abusers will go into the cabinets in search of drugs and will steal them. Students will ask their peers to raid their parents’ medication cabinets and give them pills or they will take the pills together. A simple way to avoid this is for people to keep track of their prescription medications, including the quantity, and to get rid of prescriptions that are no longer in use.
Prescriptions should be disposed of properly. They should not be flushed down the toilet or poured down the drain. If this occurs, certain medications can get dissolved into the water systems and can pollute the water. Pills should also not just be thrown away. If there is someone abusing prescription drugs, often, the first place they will check is the garbage if they notice pills missing. Pills should be disposed of at approved collection sites or properly at home. Approved collection sites are usually at police stations and law enforcement will properly dispose of the pills after they are dropped off. Another way to dispose of the unused pills, at home, is to mix them with an “undesirable substance,” such as coffee grounds, cat litter, or old spoiled food. The pills should be dissolved in water first, and then put into a container with the “undesirable substance.” The container should then be wrapped in duct tape and disposed of on garbage day (Hanson et al. 2014). This is the best way to insure that no one will be able to get a hold of the pills and misuse them.
If prescription drugs are not disposed of properly, and teens do steal them, the pills can often be taken abused at “pharm parties.” Pharm parties are parties where kids raid their parents’ medicine cabinet and then bring the pills to a party with their friends. Everyone who brings pills will mix them together in a bowl and then leave them to be taken. Partygoers usually consume two to three pills and wait for the effects to take hold. Usually while consuming these pills, they wash them down with alcohol. These parties are one of the most dangerous things someone can do. Not only are the partygoers not aware of what they are taking, they are also mixing these unknown prescription drugs with alcohol. The effects could be incredibly serious, ranging from unconsciousness, to a hospital visit, to death. Many parents are unaware these sort of parties even exist. Kids have developed code names for pharm parties and for pills. They call them “skittles parties” or “candy parties” in order to avoid suspicion. If a child told their parent they were going to a “candy party,” it would be hopeful the parent would ask more questions and be confused, but apparently this is not happening in today’s society. Apparently parents are remaining oblivious to these types of parties and more and more children are being hospitalized or overdosing and dying. With all of the negative effects listed earlier, it does not make sense why people would continue to abuse prescription drugs, especially when they are completely unaware of what they are taking. “One doctor described the activity as ‘Russian roulette,’ only with pills instead of bullets” (Hanson et al. 2014). This is a completely accurate statement. By taking unknown pills, it is like the partygoers are pulling the trigger of a gun, unaware of when the gun is going to fire.
Prescription drug abuse and addiction can be prevented if stricter laws and regulations would be placed into effect. The Durham Humphrey Amendment of 1951 laid the foundation for some of the rules that we still use today regarding drugs. The amendment gives criteria that dictates whether a drug could be sold over the counter, or if a prescription from a licensed physician is necessary in order to take the drug. Prescriptions are necessary for drugs that are: habit-forming, not safe for self-medication, intended to treat ailments that require the supervision of a health professional, or new and without an established safe track record (Hanson et al. 2014). While this criteria is a good basis for regulation, it does not discuss the physician monitoring the consumption of the pill, or discuss how to deal with addicts and potential abusers.
Clearly something needs to be done in order to stop prescription drug abuse. “More accidental deaths occur from medication overdoses than from car crashes” (Hanson et al. 2014). There are a lot of car crashes in the United States and for more prescription drug overdoses to occur than car crashes is astounding. Obviously there is help for people once they are addicted such as rehab, help groups, etc. If the problem can be stopped before addiction even occurs, that is the route that needs to be taken. By monitoring prescriptions of abused drugs given to patients better, and keeping track of how many prescriptions doctors are giving out as a whole, it will be harder for patients to walk into a doctor’s office and get prescribed painkillers, CNS depressants, or stimulants. Pharmacies should also monitor how often patients come to fill their prescriptions. If it seems really frequent, it should be reported because there is a high possibility of abuse. Basically, if more precautions are put in place and medications are properly monitored and disposed of, deaths and addictions via prescription drugs are very likely to decrease. Awareness also needs to be spread about this disease. Many parents are very unaware of the possibility of their child becoming involved with something like prescription drug abuse. If parents are made more aware, they will be able to talk to their children and watch for warning signs in order to prevent abuse. If everyone becomes more educated on the topic and people learn the terrible side effects of prescription drug abuse, it is very likely that abuse will decrease. However, until any of this happens, every precaution that is allowed should be taken in order to stop deaths, prescription abuse, and addiction.
Prescription drugs are a silent problem that the nation is facing. People are more aware of problems with street drugs than with prescription drugs, although prescription drug abuse is becoming a far larger problem. Every precaution needs to be taken to fix this problem and as much information as possible needs to be given to the public in order to prevent any further incidences with the abuse of prescription drugs. Prescription drugs are in no way safer than street drugs and people need to realize that.