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Prescription Drug Abuse: Rx for Disaster

Prescription Drug Abuse: Rx for Disaster

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Prescription drug abuse is all over the headlines these days. The untimely death of actor Heath Ledger, caused by accidental overdose of six different prescription drugs, has raised awareness of this issue. But the problem reaches across all demographics.

Generation Rx The DEA estimates that nearly 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs. That's an 80 percent increase in just the last six years. In 2006, more than 2.1 million teens reported abusing prescription drugs. And among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription medications are the drug of choice. They can be easy to get, and many teens and tweens see them as safer than street drugs.

##### About the Author

Lisa Cannon has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. She writes about everything from the health benefits of journal writing to the best ways to recycle computer hardware. She lives in beautiful Portland, Ore.

The Usual Suspects
Addiction, overuse, mixing prescriptions, and taking drugs without a prescription are the most common forms of abuse. While most people know that sleeping aids and painkillers can be addictive, they're often unaware of the dangers of mixing and upping the dosage of anti-anxiety medications, sleeping aids, sedatives, stimulants, and even cold medications without consulting a doctor. Here are a just a few of the most commonly abused prescription drug medications.

  • Painkillers: According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an estimated 2.2 million people nationwide started using prescription painkillers for nonmedical purposes in 2006. Many prescription pain medications, including oxycodone (common brand names: Percocet, OxyContin) and meperidine (brand name: Demerol), have a high potential for addiction and abuse. Taken incorrectly, painkillers can be dangerous, even deadly--especially when too high a dose is taken, or when they're mixed with other drugs, like alcohol.
  • Sleeping Aids: Most sleeping pills and other sedatives cannot be obtained without a prescription because they have a high potential for dependence. Examples of such drugs include zolpidem (Ambien), alprazolam (Xanax), and diazepam (Valium). Health risks related to depressant abuse include loss of coordination, respiratory depression, dizziness due to lowered blood pressure, slurred speech, confusion, and in extreme cases, coma and possible death.
  • Stimulants: While "uppers" are most commonly prescribed for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), they can also be used to treat conditions such as respiratory problems, obesity, and sleep disorders like narcolepsy. When taken in higher doses, these drugs can produce euphoria, but health risks related to abuse include increased heart and respiratory rates, tremors, anxiety, hostility, aggression, and, with severe abuse, suicidal/homicidal tendencies, convulsions, and cardiovascular collapse. Common brand names include: Concerta, Dexedrine, and Ritalin.

A Dangerous Combination
In addition to overuse, the interactions between drugs can cause severe health risks. For example, if you take a prescription medication, Sumatriptan (Imitrex), for migraine headaches, you should know that a life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome can happen when it's used with some medicines for treating depression.

There's no way for a doctor to be aware of every single potential drug interaction for every medication you're on. It's up to you to keep informed about all of the possible health risks in the interactions of the drugs you take. That includes alcohol, caffeine, herbs, supplements and over-the-counter medications.

Prescription for Safety:

  • Don't increase, decrease or stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor.
  • Understand the effects of drugs on driving, operating machinery, etc.
  • Learn about the drug's potential interactions with alcohol, other prescription medicines, and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Inform your doctor about any past history of substance abuse.
  • Make sure your primary care provider knows about every medication you are taking, including supplements.
  • Don't use other people's prescription medications, and don't share yours.
  • Always follow medication directions carefully, and consult with your pharmacist if you have questions.

Reprinted with permission from

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Lisa Cannon, Editor


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