The most commonly misused prescription drugs that led to ER visits are Xanax and Ativan, followed by prescription opioids. Prescription drug misuse is a nationwide health crisis that continues to destroy hundreds of lives daily. Are prescription drugs the problem, or is human nature the cause of the recent dramatic increases in ER visits? In truth, it is a combination of both. Far too many people are overdosing on their medications after combining meds or using them with alcohol or other substances.
According to CDC researcher, Dr. Andrew Geller:
Most of the time there may have been only one pharmaceutical involved, but there were other non-pharmaceutical substances or psychoactive drugs or alcohol involved as well. When people get into trouble with misusing medicines, they’re usually taking more than one substance.”
What is Prescription Drug Misuse?
Misuse of prescription medications is common today. Misuse typically means someone is taking a medication that was not prescribed for them. Or, someone doesn’t follow the dosing directions properly. However, misuse is not always intentional. Many chronic pain sufferers will often take larger doses because they aren’t getting the desired results.
The CDC reports that about 40 percent of misuse cases they reviewed involved intentional abuse:
- About 44 percent of the cases showed to clear indication of whether it was drug abuse or attempted suicide, or simple misuse.
- The remaining 16 percent of cases involved individuals taking medications for the purpose of getting high.
- Overall, more than 360,000 ER visits were attributed to misused pharmaceuticals.
The above study also shows that the primary prescription drug involved in 47 percent of cases was Benzodiazepines, and about 36 percent of cases involved OxyContin. Other drugs involved in 85 percent of the benzo cases involved alcohol, heroin, cocaine, and other illicit or prescription drugs.
Why is Rx Drug Misuse so Dangerous?
Prescription drug misuse, especially polydrug misuse, can lead to unconsciousness, heart failure, or respiratory depression. What causes these dangerous interactions? For one thing, many of the drugs are sedative/depressants meaning they slow the body down. Combining two or more of these types of drugs can cause enhanced effects that can be life-threatening.
Here are some of the most widely abused or misused prescription drugs and how they can interact to put a person’s life in danger:
CNS (central nervous system) depressants include tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics. These drugs are used to treat sleep disorders and anxiety.
Side effects of sedative/depressant misused include: confusion, memory problems, impaired judgment, mood swings, drowsiness, dizziness, slowed breathing and heart rate, addiction, overdose, death.
These drugs are usually opioids and are used to treat acute or chronic pain. They were intended for short-them use, but may patients end up taking them for years.
Side effects of opioid misuse can include nausea and vomiting, sedation, dizziness, liver damage, brain damage, respiratory depression, unconsciousness, addiction, overdose, coma, death.
Prescription stimulants are used to treat depression and ADHD. The most commonly prescribed stimulants are Ritalin and Adderall.
Illicit stimulants include cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine.
Side effects of stimulants can include, excitement, increased energy, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, aggression, panic attacks, paranoia, and suicidal ideations.
Alcohol is both a stimulant and a depressant. A person drinks a few drinks for the stimulant effect or to “loosen up”, but overdoing it on the amount consumed can cause a depressant effect (blackout, passing out). Combining alcohol with either of the above drugs can intensify the effects.
Most commonly abused with alcohol: opioids, benzodiazepines, stimulants, antidepressants, and antipsychotics.
Some of the less severe, but still dangerous, side effects of alcohol misuse include heart attack, stroke, internal bleeding, liver damage, brain damage, and mental health problems.
The side effects of combining alcohol with any of the above drugs include unconsciousness, coma, or death.
Accidental Prescription Drug Misuse
People accidentally misuse prescription drugs for a variety of reasons. As mentioned earlier, some people are not aware of the dangers involved in increasing the dosage without consulting their doctor. Others have been prescribed a combination of drugs that should not have been prescribed. For instance, some older adults are often prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines at the same time. Physicians are encouraged to avoid this procedure if possible. Older patients have lower resistance to the effects of the drug. Combining these substances can result in oversedation, which can lead to coma or death.
People who share their prescription drugs with someone may think they are helping that person, but everyone reacts differently to the chemicals in the drug. One person can take a drug with few side effects, while another person can have severe reactions. It’s highly advised to never share prescription drugs with anyone.
If you would like more information about prescription drug misuse, please contact us today at our toll-free number.
drugabuse.gov – Prescription Drugs Overview
ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – Opioid Complications and Side Effects