Drug Rehabilitation Blog

Prescription Painkillers: The Most Difficult Addiction to Treat

prescription painkillers

With their candy-colored appearance, prescription drugs are misused and abused at an alarming rate in the United States. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has statistics that few people know even though 52 million people, or one in twenty, in the US above the age of 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically. Another alarming statistic is this: every day in the US, more than 40 people die as a result of prescription painkiller abuse.

Here are 10 facts about prescription drug addiction that all responsible people should know:

1.   The population of the US is five percent of the world’s population, but citizens of the US consume 80 percent of the world’s prescription drugs. In 2010, over 8.7 million people abused prescription drugs. Children aged 12 to 17 abuse prescription drugs more than heroin, crack, cocaine, methamphetamines and ecstasy combined.

2.   The drugs that are abused most often are painkillers, tranquilizers and stimulants. Opioids such as Vicodin and Oxycontin are painkillers, Xanax and Valium are depressants and Concerta and Adderall are stimulants.

3.   Some of the common street names are:

  • Opioids: oxy, OC, percs, happy pills, hillbilly heroin and vikes
  • Barbiturates: barbs, red birds, reds, tooies, yellow jackets, yellows and phennies
  • Benzodiazepines: candy, sleeping pills, downers and tranks
  • Sleeping pills: zombie pills and A-minus
  • Sstimulants: the smart drug, skippy, vitamin R, bennies, roses, black beauties, hearts, uppers and speed

4.   The abuse of these prescription drugs can result in addiction. There are both short-term and long-term consequences to the body and mind:

  •  Abuse of stimulants can cause dangerously high body temperatures, paranoia and irregular heartbeat if taken in high doses or injected.
  •  Abuse of opioids can cause nausea, drowsiness, constipation and slowed breathing if high doses are taken.
  •  Abuse of depressants can cause shallow breathing, slurred speech, disorientation, fatigue, lack of coordination and seizures during withdrawal if used for long periods.

5.  All of these drugs alter the mind and can cause poor judgment and loss of any inhibition. They could put the user at a higher risk of contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted disease (STD), and can lead to searching for illegal drugs on the street.

6.  Cold and cough medications are the most common over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that are abused. Many contain dextromethorphan (DXM), which may make the person feel disconnected from his or her normal life if it is taken in high doses. It can also cause lack of control over movement, nausea, numbness, vomiting and higher than normal blood pressure and heart rate. DXM is in more than 100 products including Coricidin, called DXM or skittles and Robitussin called CCC and robo on the street. It can cause:

  •  Visual hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  •  Physical dependence
  •  Hyper excitability
  •  Lethargy
  •  Delusions
  •  Liver and brain damage

DXM is highly addictive and when used in combination with other drugs, it can cause heart and central nervous system problems. It can cause death if it is combined with alcohol.

7.   More people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers than die from heroin and cocaine combined, and this number is increasing every year. These deaths are now considered at epidemic levels. They can be reduced through effective interventions, and people who need the drugs for medication should:

  • Use them only as directed by their healthcare provider
  •  Store them in a secure place and dispose of them properly when they no longer need to take them
  •  Do not share or sell them to other people
  •  Find help if they are addicted or know someone who is addicted

8.   There are thousands of websites that sell prescription drugs and do not require a valid prescription. Most of these are not safe and may not have the same ingredients as the original prescription.

9.   In the US, 2,500 children from 12 to 17 years old abuse a prescription painkiller for the first time each day. The average age for first-time users is 13 to 14 years old.

10.  Five times more teenagers who abuse prescription drugs have been found to use marijuana, twice as many use alcohol and up to twenty times more use illegal street drugs including heroin, cocaine and ecstasy than teenagers who do not abuse prescription drugs. These drugs are obtained:

  •  54.2 percent free from a relative or friend
  •  18.1 percent from one doctor
  •  16.6 percent stolen or bought from a relative or friend
  •  3.9 percent bought from a drug dealing stranger
  •  4.1 percent bought from the Internet, more than one doctor or other

The large majority of teenagers who abuse prescription drugs get them from their parent’s medicine cabinets and take them because they are not illegal. These drugs are cheap, can be used as study aids, and there is less shame if they are caught than for illegal street drugs. For 21 percent, even if they are caught, their parents don’t care much. There are government agencies, community organizations, police departments and pharmacies that have drug take-back programs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides information and guidance for people to properly dispose of their prescription drugs when they are no longer needed.


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