Types of Prescription Drug Abuse
The most dangerous and commonly abused categories of prescriptions are opioids (prescription painkillers) and benzodiazepines (sedatives). These drugs are responsible for more and more fatal overdoses each year. These two types of drugs yield different symptoms and effects; however, they are both dangerous in their own way. Opioids are responsible for the rampant uptick in overall drug-related deaths, of which there were over 63,000 in 2016; their impact on overall drug fatalities have caused benzos to be often overlooked. The symptomology, origins and effects of opioid and benzo abuse are unique to each individual patient and require customized treatment for ongoing sobriety and balanced health.
Opioids (Prescription Painkillers)
Opioids are a family of prescription painkillers developed to treat severe conditions like cancer-related and post-operative pain. Common brand names include OxyContin® (oxycodone), Vicodin® (hydrocodone) and Percocet® (oxycodone and acetaminophen). Opioids have proven to be the deadliest form of prescription drug, killing over 50,000 Americans last year. One of the newest developments in the opioid addiction epidemic is the emergence of fentanyl, deaths from which have increased over 540 percent over the past few years. These drugs have changed the face of American drug addiction, infiltrating every portion of the United States population, including young adults, senior citizens and even adolescents.
The path to opioid addiction can take multiple forms. Some patients start abusing these drugs out of sheer toxic curiosity and wind up in over their heads; some end up taking the drugs for legitimate medical reasons and wind up dependent before they know what hit them. One of the more recent realities in the prescription opioid saga is the high rates of senior citizens that are becoming addicted. As they get older, their bodies become less able to metabolize the drug, causing them to need to increased doses at more frequent intervals. Senior citizens have some of the highest rates of chronic pain, and more and more of them are taking opioids to help them cope. In 2014, generic hydrocodone was the drug most prescribed to patients on Medicare; and unfortunately, little has been done to safeguard seniors from these drugs in the years since.
Victims of opioid addiction experience significant physical, emotional and lifestyle damage for which they need comprehensive treatment on multiple levels. Opioid addiction withdrawal yields a variety of physical and psychological symptoms, including but not limited to flu-like symptoms, intestinal distress (nausea, vomiting and diarrhea), headache and migraine, excessive perspiration, seizures, convulsions and more. These symptoms can be extremely dangerous and require comprehensive detox from a medical professional. Psychological symptoms can include hallucinations, paranoia, extreme irritability and more. Victims of opioid abuse also experience a significant decline in quality of life, including deterioration of their careers, family lives and personal relationships.
Benzodiazepines (“benzos”) are a family of medications with sedative effects used to treat anxiety and other conditions. Common brand-name benzos include Xanax® (alprazolam), Valium® (diazepam) and Klonopin® (clonazepam). Xanax is the most commonly abused prescription across the globe. Benzos are especially dangerous when mixed with alcohol, as both substances are central nervous system depressants and can significantly slow breathing and heart rate. While these drugs have been remarkably effective in managing potentially debilitating conditions like anxiety and trauma, they can also be extremely addictive and life-threatening. Despite clear evidence of their potential dangers, these drugs continue to be among the most commonly prescribed medications in the world.
Over the past twenty years, benzo-related mortality cases have increased consistently in the United States. Overdose rates quadrupled between 1999 and 2010 and they show no signs of tapering. During this period, the percentage of people who used benzodiazepines has increased with age from 2.6 percent (18-35 years) to 5.4 percent (36-50 years) to 7.4 percent (51-64 years) to 8.7 percent (65-80 years). Benzodiazepine use is nearly twice as prevalent in women as men. The proportion of benzodiazepine use that was long-term increased with age from 14.7 percent (18-35 years) to 31.4 percent (65-80 years), while the proportion that received a benzodiazepine prescription from a psychiatrist decreased with age from 15 percent (18-35 years) to 5.7 percent (65-80 years). In all age groups, roughly one-quarter of individuals receiving benzodiazepine treatment involved long-acting benzodiazepine use.
The percentage of adults in the United States who filled a benzodiazepine prescription per year has increased by close to 30 percent. In addition, the amount of benzodiazepine medicine — whether Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin or other drugs in this class — in a prescription has more than doubled over the past 20 years. Anxiety is the most frequent reason these medications were given, accounting for 56 percent of prescriptions.
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What Causes Prescription Drug Addiction?
Each person starts abusing prescription drugs for their own reasons. No two cases of addiction are identical; however, there are a few common circumstances that drive the onset of abuse, including:
Improper Use – Using a legitimate supply outside of recommended guidelines established by a physician. This can include taking more drugs in a given dose or taking them in more frequent intervals than is advised.
Theft and Diversion – This includes intentionally abusive behaviors like stealing pills from a loved one for recreational use or sale on the streets. Although it has become increasingly more difficult to divert prescription drugs, this phenomenon is still very much part of the problem.
One of the unfortunate realities of prescription drug abuse, particularly opioid painkillers, is that addicts often wind up turning to heroin for a cheaper and more accessible high.