Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse Highlighted During National Safety Month

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As part of National Safety Month in June, families are encouraged to learn about the dangers of prescription drug abuse—along with how these drugs are obtained.

“Prescription drug abuse often starts with a legal prescription, or from someone diverting pills from a friend or family member,” said Karen Wolownik Albert, Executive Director at Gateway Alcohol & Drug Treatment Centers. “National Safety Month is a great time to remind parents and families about the issue of addiction and how it may be prevented.”

Poisonings are the leading cause of preventable deaths among 25 to 64 year olds, largely from drug overdoses and prescription opioids, according to the National Safety Council.

“Because these drugs are prescribed by a doctor, many people falsely believe they’re risk free, but prescription drugs can be just as addictive and lethal as illicit drugs bought on the street,” Albert said. “Your brain and body sees no difference between a prescription opioid like hydrocodone and street-purchased heroin.”

Young people are particularly vulnerable when it comes to prescription drug abuse and addiction. Teens prefer prescription drugs as their drug of choice, second only to marijuana, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Teen brains are not yet fully developed, and can be very sensitive to drugs and alcohol. Frequent use of drugs and alcohol may permanently alter or impair brain development.

Gateway offers these steps parents can take to reduce the risk of prescription drug abuse within their families:

  • Use medications only as prescribed or directed on the label.
  • Keep such medications in a secure and concealed location.
  • Don’t share prescriptions with a friend or family member.
  • Properly dispose of unwanted or expired prescriptions to keep them from falling into the wrong hands. Local pharmacies or the police may accept unwanted medications.
  • Monitor family members for any unusual behavior if they’re taking prescription drugs, especially young people who are more susceptible to risk taking and addiction.

Warning signs of prescription drug abuse include changes in health such as sleeping habits, energy level, hygiene, appearance or weight loss. Other signs might include changes in friends, personality or a loss of interest in school or other activities.

Gateway offers a free downloadable guide to prescription drug abuse at: RecoverGateway.org/RxDrugs

Prince’s Death Puts Opioid Fentanyl Overdose under Spotlight

According to a Minnesota medical examiner report, musician Prince passed away after a self-administered dose of fentanyl. (Forbes, 2016)

It is not clear whether Prince habitually used fentanyl or other prescription opioids or how long he used such medication; there is not enough information to classify this as an addiction. Nevertheless, this tragic and untimely loss is increasing awareness of the ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States – and more specifically, fentanyl abuse. During this devastating time, Gateway hopes to educate individuals on how to recognize the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse and help a loved one who may be struggling.

Addressing the Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Medicine pill capsules with medicine bottleStudies show that more than 28,000 people died from opioids, which includes heroin and painkillers, in 2014, and 4.3 million people were taking pain medication for non-medical purposes that year. (NY Times, 2016)

In March of 2015, the DEA issued a nationwide alert regarding fentanyl. “Drug incidents and overdoses related to fentanyl are occurring at an alarming rate throughout the United States and represent a significant threat to public health and safety,” wrote DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart.

Fortunately, there is hope. Treatment is available for those who wish to seek help for prescription drug abuse.

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a powerful prescription opioid. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that fentanyl is nearly one hundred times as strong as morphine and hundreds of times more potent than heroin.

Fentanyl is typically prescribed to treat severe pain, or to manage pain after surgery. Like heroin, morphine, and other opioids, fentanyl binds to the body’s opiate receptors – driving up dopamine levels in the brain’s reward areas and producing a state of euphoria and relaxation.

When prescribed by a physician, fentanyl is often administered via injection, transdermal patch, or in lozenge form. However, the type of fentanyl associated with most overdoses is produced in underground laboratories and mixed with heroin or other substances in a powder form.

Mixing fentanyl with street drugs such as heroin or cocaine increases potency and potential dangers. (National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2016)

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Fentanyl Abuse?
If your loved one is prescribed an opioid painkiller, keep a watchful eye and ensure he or she takes the medication as directed. Some warning signs of prescription drug abuse to watch for include:

  • Appearing drowsy or intoxicated
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Not performing well at work or school (or just not attending at all)
  • Running out of medication too early
  • Changing doctors often

Effects of Fentanyl Abuse
There are serious mental and physical effects of prolonged fentanyl abuse in addition to the signs and symptoms of abuse listed above. Physical side effects include severe gastrointestinal problems, weakened immune system, difficulty breathing and seizures. Mental effects may include paranoia, lack of motivation, personality changes and social withdrawal. When combined with street drugs, the depression of the central nervous system can lead to respiratory distress, coma and even death. (DrugAbuse.com)

To learn more about prescription drug abuse and treatment visit RecoverGateway.org/RxDrugs.

 

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