Abuse of prescription drugs has been classified by the CDC as an epidemic. More people die from an overdose of opioid analgesics than from heroin and cocaine combined. The scale of the issue is without question, but the main issue when it comes to protecting people from the dangers of these drugs is that they have legitimate medical uses. In this regard, pharmacokinetics needs to be taken seriously to administer the use of prescription medicine.
There’re several different classes of prescription medications that are commonly abused, and this is generally because of a similarity to other commonly abused drugs. The most common are opioid analgesics, which are used for the treatment of pain and are derived from morphine, the same substance used to make heroin. There are also central nervous system depressants such as Valium, which produce sedated relaxation and aid sleep. Stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are used because they have a similar effect to amphetamines. Some people also abuse cough medicines for a hallucinogenic effect.
Although there’s a perception that prescription medications are safe because they are prescribed by doctors, that is only true for the recipient of the prescription and for the stated dosage; anything else is potentially very unsafe. Both opioids and central nervous system depressants can dangerously slow breathing if taken in high doses, and each also carries unique risks. Opioid users can become drowsy and constipated, and central nervous system depressants adversely affect brain function. Stimulants cause agitation, paranoia, anxiety, irregular heartbeat and can lead to seizures.
The main problem with curbing the abuse of prescription medicines is that they will always be available. Patients with chronic pain, for example, cannot be denied opioid painkillers when they can make their life manageable. Likewise, people with persistent insomnia need central nervous system depressants to sleep, and ADHD patients and narcoleptics need stimulants. These drugs are a part of day-to-day existence because they help a lot of regular people enjoy their lives.
It could be argued that doctors or renegade online pharmacies are to blame for the widespread availability of prescription medicines and that if they were regulated more efficiently,the abuse would disappear. However, if you work under the assumption that some people are more likely to abuse drugs than others (as is evident from a wide range of studies), and accept that there is a chance of these people being prescribed one of the potential drugs of abuse for a legitimate condition, the problem becomes clear.
It’s clear that there is very little that could be done to entirely stop the abuse of prescription medicines, but as always, education about the risks has a large part to play. We can’t deny medicine to those in need, but we can do our utmost to ensure that the public understands the game of Russian roulette they’re playing when they use prescription medicines in ways or quantities not suggested by a registered physician. Prescription medication abuse may be a persistent problem, but we need to take steps to minimize that problem as much as possible.