Understanding Prescription Drug Abuse

Addiction to prescription drugs is considered worse than addiction to cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prescription drug abuse has acquired the form of an epidemic in the U.S.

If a person regularly takes drugs not prescribed by a doctor or exceeds the recommended dosage, he is becoming a prescription drug addict which can even turn fatal. Another case of prescription drug addiction is when a person tends to regularly take the drug that is prescribed to someone else.

According to the study titled “Prescription Drug Abuse,” conducted in 2014, an estimated 6.8 million individuals currently abuse prescription drugs in the United States. According to Michael Klein, Ph.D., Director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Controlled Substance Staff, “The prevalence of misuse and abuse of prescription medications is concerning. Health care professionals should encourage patients to be aware of early signs of drug abuse, which can include using the prescription more frequently or at higher doses, but without medical direction to do so.”

Another study titled “Prescription Drug Abuse: Epidemiology, Regulatory Issues, Chronic Pain Management with Narcotic Analgesics,” published in 2012, throws light on this growing epidemic and states that despite prescription drugs being used to treat medical and psychiatric illnesses effectively and appropriately, incidences of abuse have escalated alarmingly over the past decade.

Who is at risk?

It has been observed that many healthcare providers don’t have proper training in pain treatment and addiction and are unsure about giving safe opioid prescriptions to patients. Studies have shown that some people may come under high-risk category and may be more vulnerable to prescription drug abuse. Some of the high-risk factors include easy access to prescription drugs, younger age, presence of mental health disorder, addiction to other substances and lack of knowledge about this. Prescription drug abuse can have a long-term impact on physical and mental health.

Every year, prescription painkiller overdose results in about 15,000 deaths, which is more than the fatalities caused jointly by heroin and cocaine overdose. As pain medications are easily available over the counter, its non-medical use and abuse has increased dramatically. Creating awareness among healthcare practitioners is essential to reduce it while making headway toward providing an effective treatment.

Prescription opioid analgesic overdose deaths have increased to almost 17,000 per year in the U.S., as per reports. According to experts, increase in heroin addiction is linked to prescription opioid abuse.

The way forward

State-run electronic database, called Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), is being used to track prescription and dispensing of drugs to patients. This database provides prior information on suspected abuse, and can also give critical information regarding a patient’s substance prescription history. This information is easily accessible and can help identify high-risk patients. PDMPs continue to be a popular tool to track painkiller prescription and protect patients at risk.