Common Forms of Prescription Drug Abuse and Their DangersAnna Ciulla
Prescription drugs are big business, both in America and globally, forecast to reach nearly $1.5 trillion globally and as high as $610 billion in the U.S. by 2021. While projections of expenditures in the U.S. are down slightly from years prior, due to political pressure to decrease costs, some drug patents expiring and more generics coming to market, the problem of prescription drug misuse and abuse continues. Indeed, even as restrictions on prescribing and dispensing pain medications has led to a 1 percent decline in those prescription drugs, misuse and abuse of the currently available prescription drugs (opioid painkillers, antidepressants, tranquilizers and stimulants, to name a few) has skyrocketed, particularly among teens, the elderly, and young women.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), prescription drugs rank third as the most commonly abused drugs, right behind alcohol and marijuana, and ahead of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.
Taking prescription drugs prescribed for another person, taking them for a nonmedical reason, or for recreational purposes, such as getting “high,” constitutes prescription drug abuse. Just because a medication is available through prescription does not mean it’s always safe to use by just anyone, especially when not used as prescribed or used without being prescribed. There are inherent dangers to swallowing prescription tablets, the most usual form of prescription medication, yet other ways to get prescription drugs into the body, such as snorting, injecting and smoking, also pose dangers.
SNORTING PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
The medical term is “nasal insufflation,” more popularly known as snorting, and users of prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes resort to snorting the drugs as a means of achieving a more powerful high in a quicker amount of time. Just because the drug gets into the person’s system faster is enough to pose serious and potentially fatal dangers, yet it’s also the potency of the drug that’s ingested that combines to elevate snorting’s risks.
The unpredictability of snorting certain prescription drugs, such as oxycodone (extended-release OxyContin), completely bypasses the drug’s intended time-release matrix, allowing users to experience a quicker high – but also exposes them to health-related consequences. These include, but are not limited to, nasal fungal infections, perforations of the palate and nostrils, and lung nodules caused by inflammation (pulmonary granulomatosis).
By taking prescription drugs in a way other than intended (snorting, rather than taking orally) and for nonmedical uses, the user not only becomes susceptible to the drug’s more rapid effects (such as numbing, euphoria, temporary relief from depression or pain), he or she is vulnerable to developing an addiction. It’s also tough to gauge how the drug will affect the user, with overdoses an increasing risk as users snort more of the drug, perhaps to prolong the high or further intensify the effects.
The most serious of the dangers of snorting prescription drugs, just as with any other form of ingesting them, include heart failure, seizures, coma and death.
Other dangerous side-effects of snorting prescription drugs include constipation, vomiting, increased heart rate, dizziness and shakiness. Furthermore, withdrawal from snorted prescription drugs is no picnic, either. Symptoms may include mood swings, difficulty sleeping, shakiness, chills and soreness, among others.
DANGERS OF INJECTING PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
Many prescription drugs are dispensed and sold in tablet form. Users of prescription drugs used for nonmedical purposes abuse such prescription medications by crushing the tablets and either injecting or snorting the resulting powder. What happens when the drugs are used this way is that it hastens the effect of the drugs getting into the user’s bloodstream as well as the brain and, consequently, intensifies the drug’s effects on the brain.
Injecting prescription sedatives or tranquilizers leads to drowsiness, slurred speech, impaired concentration, dizziness, confusion, memory and movement problems, slowed breathing, and lowered blood pressure. Injected stimulants used in combination with alcohol further slows breathing and heart rate and may result in death.
Opioids are particularly dangerous when injected or snorted, and can lead to fatal overdoses and death due to depressed respiration, a condition known as hypoxia. Hypoxia’s short-and long-term effects can lead to neurological and psychological damage, including permanent brain damage and coma.
Some of the many prescription opioid medications include hydrocodone/acetaminophen (Lortab, Norco, Vicodin), hydrocodone (Zohydro ER), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), oxycodone and acetaminophen (Percocet).
The risk of addiction increases when prescription drugs are either injected into a vein or smoked. This is because these forms of abuse speed the drug’s passage to the brain, increasing the euphoria or high, which quickly fades and can lead to the user repeatedly taking the drug in this manner or taking more of it to recapture the euphoric effects. Over time, such behavior may result in addiction.
Another risk of injecting prescription opioids and the illegal substance heroin comes from sharing needles with others, increasing the danger of contracting hepatitis B virus and hepatitis C virus. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Research (CDC), with the explosion in the abuse of opioid drugs and heroin among those under the age of 40, the numbers of individuals infected with hepatitis B and hepatitis C has reached epidemic proportions. Not only are those conditions serious, anyone infected with either virus is also at risk for contracting other blood-borne viruses, including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
SMOKING PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
Some prescription stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are abused to get high by smoking the substances, in addition to other modes of ingestion that include swallowing, injecting, chewing, and snorting. Any of these methods of prescription drugs abuse can pose serious risks. In high doses, stimulant abuse can cause dangerously high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and seizures. Other long-term risks include anger, heart problems, paranoia, and psychosis, as well as developing an addiction to stimulants. For more information, read the long term effects of drug abuse on the body. Using stimulants in combination with alcohol increases the risk of alcohol overdose. There are no FDA-approved medications to treat stimulant addiction, although behavioral therapies used to treat cocaine or methamphetamine addiction may be useful.
If you or a loved one is showing signs of prescription drug abuse, it is recommended to contact an accredited treatment facility to better understand your treatment options for drug addiction. Our admission counselors are available by phone 24/7, seven days a week, to answer questions and provide detailed information about our drug treatment programs.
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