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Prescription drug abuse rates are rapidly increasing in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the U.S. makes up only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet it is responsible for the consumption of 75 percent of the world’s prescription drugs. Abuse of prescription drugs occurs who the drug is taken in a manner other than its intended purpose such as to get high.

Prescription drug abuse can take over someone's life if help isn't found. It doesn’t have to be this way though. For those who are struggling with prescription drug abuse and addiction, help is only a phone call away.

About Prescription Drug

Prescription drug abuse is very common in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 52 million people in the nation have used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes at least once in their lives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic in the United States. It is important to spread awareness regarding drug abuse in an effort to reduce the stigma that keeps many addicts from getting help.

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drugs are abused when taken for reasons or in ways other than those for which the drug was originally intended by the prescribing physician. This can take many forms, including taking the drug to obtain a high, changing its form (crushing pills into powder) or taking more than the prescribed dosage. Consuming another individual’s prescription medication is drug abuse even if taken for its intended purpose. For instance, if an individual has his or her wisdom teeth removed, it is considered drug abuse if the individual then takes a loved one’s prescription Vicodin to manage the pain.

Drug dependence develops when an individual’s body adapts to having the substance in its system. The more of any given drug that an individual consumes, the more tolerance that is built, meaning it takes more of the substance to produce the same effect as smaller amounts previously did. When a tolerance is built and the brain craves the substance, withdrawal symptoms develop if the drug is not introduced into the body. This is drug dependence, which often leads to addiction.

Types of prescription drugs

There are three main types of prescription drugs that are abused and those include opioids, stimulants and central nervous system depressants. Prescription drugs affect the brain by altering the actions and production of the neurotransmitters, which send messages to receptors on nearby cells. Each type of drug has a different effect on the brain.

Opioids bind to endorphin receptors found on nerve cells responsible for the perception of pain and pleasure. Vicodin and OxyContin are popular prescription opioids, while heroin is a commonly abused, illegal opioid. Stimulants cause an increase in the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Prescription stimulants include Ritalin and Adderall, which are often used to treat individuals with attention-hyper deficit disorder (ADHD) and have effects similar to methamphetamines when taken by individuals who do not have ADHD. Depressants affect the gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters and endorphins, which affect arousal, judgment and pain relief. Commonly abused prescription central nervous system depressants include Valium and Xanax. Marijuana and alcohol are also depressants.

Signs and symptoms

Each prescription drug has different potential side effects, though there are common side effects among each type of drug. For instance, opioids can make it difficult for an individual to breathe. Stimulants can cause a dramatic rise in body temperature and rapid heartbeat, often resulting in seizures. Depressants impair motor function and can cause shallow breathing and slow heartbeat.

General warning signs of prescription drug abuse include:

  • Chronic pain in muscles and bones
  • Chills or fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Insomnia

Unfortunately, overdose is another common consequence of prescription drug abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription drugs are involved in more than 50 percent of drug overdoses in the United States each year. Out of these prescription drug-related deaths, 71 percent are due to opioids.

Who does this affect?

Prescription drug abuse affects all demographics. However, there are certain populations that are more susceptible to addiction.

Prescription drug abuse and/or addiction often develops following a medical procedure or situation in which the individual was prescribed the drug for a medical purpose. Senior citizens (ages 65 and older) are at high risk for prescription drug abuse since they are often prescribed many different long-term and short-term medications. These can easily be misused, often accidentally, or result in physical or psychological dependence on the substance. Seniors make up only 13 percent of the United States population but are responsible for more than one-third of spending on outpatient prescription drugs nationwide.

Some individuals struggling with prescription drug abuse see a variety of doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for medication. This practice is called “doctor shopping,” and it is illegal.

Adolescents and teenagers are also highly susceptible to prescription drug abuse, particularly stimulants. Though teen prescription drug abuse has decreased in general during the past decade, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s 2014 Monitoring the Youth survey, the amount of teens abusing stimulants, such as Adderall, has risen. Teens are often able to get these drugs from their friends who have prescriptions. The rate of drug-related deaths among teens due to prescription drugs is greater than those from heroin and cocaine combined.

Help is available

If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug abuse, help is available. Call the Colorado Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline today to speak with a professional who can connect you with a treatment center in your area.

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