Prescription Drug Abuse
The abuse of prescription drugs is not a new problem. It's just a problem that doesn't get as much media attention as the more high profile addictions like heroin or crack cocaine.
It's a type of abuse that can occur completely by accident, simply by not following the doctor's instructions. On the other hand there is a growing illicit market for opiods, stimulants and tranquilisers, all readily available on prescription from the local doctor's surgery.
Misusing prescription drugs is very common in the elderly - not surprisingly since their use of prescription medicines is three times higher than average because of age related illnesses. This can be down to some doctors prescribing inappropriate doses, particularly of tranquilisers, or basic misunderstanding of how much should be taken. Many older people have a complex medicine taking regime and they can get confused about what to take and when.
Opiods such as codeine (the world's most widely used narcotic for medicinal purposes) morphine and OxyContin, are commonly prescribed as painkillers. It's their ability to bring on a sense of euphoria and calm that attracts them to non medicinal users. Chronic use of opiods leads to tolerance so the user needs ever increasing amounts to achieve the initial feel good effect. Long term use can lead to addiction.
OxyContin, which is known on the streets as "poor man's heroin", is widely misused. It's a very powerful painkiller which users say detaches you from reality and brings on a euphoric high. Users crush the tablets and snort them or dissolve them and inject the liquid to get the drug into the system quicker.
Patients sometimes find themselves addicted to these painkillers simply because their pain is so severe that they end up self medicating and ignoring the advice of their doctor.
Self medication is also a key factor in the abuse of central nervous system depressants. These include barbiturates and benzodiazepines such as valium. Because they are used to treat anxiety and sleeping problems people tend to rely on them initially for psychological reasons and this eventually leads to physical dependence.
Stimulants, on the other hand, such as legally prescribed amphetamines have a thriving non medicinal market. They are popular among clubbers because they give an energy rush.
So how do people get hold of prescription drugs for non medicinal use?
The Drug Enforcement Administration, DEA, believes that unscrupulous doctors and pharmacists are the main source of prescription drugs flooding the black market. In some cases, according to the DEA, these people create fraudulent prescriptions to supply the drug for distribution.
Many of these drugs are widely available on the internet without a prescription and they're ruthlessly promoted to millions of internet users worldwide via spam email. Dealers can set up rogue sites quickly and take them down in a instant to avoid being traced.
There's also a practice known as "doctor shopping" whereby people constantly swap their doctors to get numerous prescriptions to feed an addiction. This frequent switching means doctors are unaware that the person has already received the drug and could be abusing it.
Abusers also get hold of prescription drugs by buying them off a person who actually legitimately uses the medication. In America the National Institute on Drug Abuse has reported a growing trend in the number of students who suffer from hyperactivity selling their prescription Ritalin (a legal amphetamine type drug) to their classmates.
Only prescription drug addiction treatment can help a person who has willingly or accidentally gotten hooked on painkillers and other types of prescription medications.