Table of Contents
- What is Prescription Drug Abuse?
- Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse
- Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse
- Risk Factors of Prescription Drug Abuse
- Complications of Prescription Drug Abuse
- Physical Dependence and Addiction: What’s the Difference?
- The Opioid Epidemic in the United States
- What Prescription Drug Causes the Most Deaths in Orange County, CA?
- How is Prescription Drug Abuse Treated?
- Finding Your Prescription for Drug Detox
We understand how difficult prescription drug withdrawal can be. Many times, withdrawal symptoms are so severe that those suffering from a prescription drug addiction return to using within 24 hours. The key to overcoming this barrier is a medically supervised detox in which withdrawal symptoms are identified and treated as soon as possible.
At West Valley Detox in Sherman Oaks and Tarzana, California, we conduct a thorough initial evaluation and tailor a treatment plan to each client’s specific needs and recovery goals. For our detox clients, our facility provides 24-hour medical supervision and comfort care.
Drug detox is the first step toward recovery from addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, or illegal drugs. It’s the process of clearing the substance from your body. This prepares you to deal with emotional and mental dependence. After removing toxins from the body, the journey to recovery can officially begin. If you live in Southern California, or the surrounding areas, there is help available.
What is Prescription Drug Abuse?
Prescription drug abuse or misuse is defined as taking a medication in a different manner or dose than prescribed; taking someone else’s prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain; or taking a medication to feel euphoria (i.e., to get high). These types of misuse are also referred to as nonmedical use of prescription drugs. The three most commonly abused classes of medication are:
- Opioids: Types of prescription painkillers are commonly used to treat pain in the central nervous system (CNS).
- Depressants: These types of medications which include tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.
- Stimulants: These medications are most commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Misuse of prescription drugs can have serious medical consequences. Today, there has been a major increase in emergency room visits and overdose deaths associated with prescription drugs, and admissions to treatment for opioid use disorders (OUDs). Although the specific mechanisms of action and side effects of each drug vary, the ones listed above all have a high potential for abuse and addiction. Many of these medications are frequently abused for the high they can produce or combined with other substances such as alcohol to increase their potency. Prescription drug detox and treatment for physical and mental recovery are usually required when opioids are abused.
What are the Most Commonly Abused Drugs?
What exactly are prescription drugs? There are numerous types, and not all of them have the potential to become habit-forming. When prescription drugs are abused, they can lead to addiction. Prescriptions are commonly abused in three categories: depressants, stimulants, and opioid narcotics. The following is a list of some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs, along with a description of the medical conditions or mental health disorders for which they are prescribed.
Among the most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants.
These are also known as narcotics or opiates/opioids. Some examples are:
- Oxycodone (OxyContin)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab)
- Meperidine (Demerol)
A single large dose of these drugs can cause severe respiratory depression and death. Long-term abuse often leads to physical dependence and sometimes, death.
Depressants are prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. Examples are:
- Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal)
- Diazepam (Valium)
- Alprazolam (Xanax)
These drugs slow down your normal brain function and can cause a drowsy, uncoordinated sensation. In large doses, it can depress breathing and lead to a coma. Long-term abuse may lead to physical dependence and addiction.
Stimulants are often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some examples of stimulants are:
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
- Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
- Amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Concerta, Adderall)
Stimulant drugs elevate blood pressure and heart rate. High doses can cause seriously high body temperature and even cardiac arrest caused by an abnormal heartbeat.
Runners-up for the most commonly abused prescription drugs are:
- Barbiturates such as NemSedative hypnotics such as Ambien
- Antidepressants like Zoloft, Prozac, and Paxil
A Word About Marijuana
As marijuana becomes widely legalized for medical use, it will appear soon on the list of most commonly abused prescription drugs. This will be a change from its place as an illicit street drug only. Soon, it will rank high among both prescribed and street drugs.
Can Over-the-Counter (OTC) Drugs be Abused?
OTC drugs can be bought in a store or pharmacy without a prescription. Some are used medically to treat allergies and colds. But if abused, they can cause serious harm when taken in large doses for non-medical purposes. Cough syrups can be dangerous when abused to get high.
Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse
It is difficult to conceal a prescription drug addiction. Although it may be difficult to recognize a person has a prescription drug problem at first, the signs become more visible as their addiction progresses. The following are some common signs of prescription drug addiction that you and your loved ones should be aware of.
Among the physical signs and symptoms are:
- Feeling high
- Vomiting and nausea
- Slowed breathing
- Loss of coordination
- Pain sensitivity increases with higher doses (hyperalgesia)
- Increased sensitivity to pain with higher doses
- I’m on a high (euphoria or pleasure)
- Breathing has become more sluggish
- Slurred speech
- Concentration problems
- Memory issues
- increased vigilance
- Fluctuations in body temperature and high blood pressure
Among the behavioral signs and symptoms are:
- They are either stealing, forging, or selling their medications.
- Taking higher-than-recommended doses
- erratic mood swings
- Sleep pattern changes
- Ineffective decision-making
- Impaired decision-making
- Having the appearance of being high (can include increased energy, lethargy, or sedation)
- Requesting early refills on a regular basis
- Constantly “losing” prescriptions in the hopes of getting more Doctor shopping (seeking prescriptions from several doctors)
The signs and symptoms of prescription drug addiction differ depending on the substance. Cocaine, for example, increases alertness and attacks the cardiovascular system, whereas opioids produce sedation and target the respiratory system. Regardless, you should only take prescription medications if your doctor has prescribed them to you.
Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse
But what factors contribute to prescription drug abuse? Why do people abuse these substances when they can cause harm? Despite the negative consequences of prescription drug abuse, many people become addicted to their medications for a variety of reasons such as:
- To relieve pain
- Just to feel good or get high
- To relieve tension and relax
- To reduce their appetite
- To increase alertness
- To experiment with the effects of the substance
- To prevent withdrawal and maintain their addiction
- Wanting to be social and accepted by their peers
- To try to improve school or work performance
- To improve their concentration
Risk Factors of Prescription Drug Abuse
You can avoid prescription drug abuse if you keep in touch with your doctor and take your medications exactly as prescribed. However, in addition to the various causes of prescription drug misuse, there are several prescription drug abuse risk factors to consider. Many people are afraid of becoming addicted to medications prescribed for medical conditions, such as painkillers prescribed after surgery. However, you can lower your risk by carefully following the instructions on how to take your medicine. Risk factors for prescription drug misuse include:
- Certain pre-existing mental health issues
- Family history of substance use problems
- Past or current addictions to other substances, including alcohol and tobacco
- Easy access to prescription drugs such as having prescription drugs in the home
- Having little knowledge about prescription drugs and their potential for harm
- Peer pressure or a social environment that includes drug use
Hundreds of other contributing factors can push a person to misuse their medications in addition to these risk factors. One common reason for prescription drug abuse is that people increase their doses to cope with the pain after surgery. Individuals addicted to prescription drugs increase their risks of organ failure, cardiovascular disease, overdose, and death if they do not seek treatment.
Prescription Drug Abuse Among Older Adults
The abuse of prescription drugs by older adults is a growing problem in this country. This is especially true when they combine prescription drugs with alcohol. Having multiple health issues and taking multiple drugs for them can put older people at a higher risk of misusing drugs or becoming addicted.
Complications of Prescription Drug Abuse
Abusing prescription drugs can lead to many problems. Prescription drugs can be hazardous and may lead to death when:
- Taken in high doses
- Taken with other prescription drugs
- Combined with some OTC medicines
- Taken with alcohol
- Used with illegal or recreational drugs.
Examples of severe consequences of prescription drug abuse:
Opioids: cause a slowed breathing rate which has the potential to cause the following issues:
- Opioid overdose (which may lead to death)
Sedatives and anti-anxiety medications: These drugs are commonly taken because they temporarily make you feel calm and less anxious but they can cause:
- Low blood pressure
- Memory problems
- Slowed breathing
- Coma or death from an overdose
But suddenly stopping the medication can cause withdrawal symptoms that may include an overactive nervous system and seizures.
Stimulants: These types of drugs increase your alertness but can cause:
- Increase in body temperature
- High blood pressure
- Heart problems
Physical Dependence and Addiction: What’s the Difference?
Since prescription drugs that are commonly abused activate the brain’s reward center, it is possible to establish physical dependence and addiction. However, there are differences between physical dependence and addiction.
Physical dependence is also called drug tolerance. This is the body’s response to long-term use of a drug. Physically dependent people need higher doses of the drug to get the same effects they got at first. They may also experience withdrawal symptoms when cutting back or suddenly stopping the drug.
Individuals who are addicted to a drug can have a physical dependence, however, they also seek out the drug and continue to use it even when it causes major difficulties in their lives.
The Opioid Epidemic in the United States
Prescription drug abuse (opioid pain relievers, stimulants, and sedatives) is a growing public health issue in the United States, particularly in Los Angeles County. According to national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug-related deaths now outnumber all other causes of injury death, including motor vehicle accidents and firearms. Increased nonmedical use of prescription drugs has contributed to the recent increase in drug overdose deaths.
There are no easy solutions to America’s deadly drug overdose epidemic, which claims approximately 100,000 lives each year and erodes gains in life expectancy. To put it in perspective, drug overdose is the third leading cause of injury death and premature death in Southern California.
The increased prescribing of opioid medications like oxycodone and hydrocodone has led to widespread misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids. This has reached a crisis point that has had a substantial effect on public health and economic and social outcomes in the U.S. More than 500,000 opioid-related deaths have occurred since 2000.
In the meantime, millions more Americans are suffering from opioid addiction. Experts say the problem started with the overprescription of legal pain medications. But they also indicate that it has gotten more intense in recent years with a flow of synthetic opioids such as heroin and fentanyl. National patterns have been observed within Los Angeles County, indicating that the burden on health is increasing.
Prescription drug abuse has serious consequences that require immediate community attention. To reduce prescription drug abuse, parents, patients, educators, healthcare providers, and manufacturers must work together. Medical examiners are in a unique position to prevent future opioid overdose deaths. Public policy initiatives and governmental actions will be critical in addressing this issue, and only coordinated efforts at the local, state, and federal levels will result in long-term solutions.
The number of drug overdose deaths increased by almost 30% from 2019 to 2020. This is four times as many as in 1999. Almost 75% of the 91,799 overdose deaths in 2020 involved an opioid. From 2019 to 2020, there were several changes in opioid-related death rates:
- Opioid-related death rates rose by 38%
- Prescription opioid-related death rates rose by 17%
- Heroin-related death rates dropped by 7%
- Synthetic opioid-related death rates (except methadone) rose by 56%
3 Waves of Opioid Overdose Deaths
More than 564,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid (prescription or illegal) from 1999 to 2020. The increase in these deaths can be outlined in three noticeable waves:
- The first wave started with the increased prescribing of opioids in the 1990s. Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids (natural, semi-synthetic, and methadone) increased since at least 1993.
- The second wave started in 2010 with a rapid increase in overdose deaths that involved heroin.
- The third wave began in 2013 with substantial increases in overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids, especially those involving illegally made fentanyl.
Who is Affected Most?
At this time, 72% of preventable opioid deaths happen among people aged 25 to 54. But the number of deaths among people 55 and older is climbing rapidly. Among children under age 15, there are few opioid deaths.
What Prescription Drug Causes the Most Deaths in Orange County, CA?
The number of Californians affected by prescription and non-prescription opioid misuse and overdose is significant. There were 7,457 opioid overdose/abuse cases treated in emergency departments (ED) in Orange county between 2011 and 2015. Notably, seven of every 10 overdose deaths investigated by the Coroner during this period involved opioids.
Although the rate of opioid-involved overdose deaths has stayed relatively level between 2011 and 2015, the rate of ED visits has more than doubled since 2005. The highest death and ED visit rates were found in coastal and southern cities such as:
- Dana Point
- Costa Mesa
- San Clemente
- Laguna Beach
- Laguna Woods
Who’s Using Them?
According to the demographic profiles, about six out of ten people treated in an ED each year for opioid-related dependence or overdose are males. About 39% were females. Still, between 2011 and 2015, opioid-related ED visits increased for both.
Most of the opioid-related ED visits were among Non-Hispanic White residents (78%). This is distantly followed by Hispanics (15%) and Other/Unknown (4%), Asian/Pacific Islanders (2%), and African-Americans (1%). Except for African Americans, the number of opioid-induced ED visits increased for all racial/ethnic groups between 2011 and 2015.
Adults aged 18 to 34 accounted for over 50% of people who were treated for opioid abuse (53%). The highest number and rate of ED visits were for people between 18 and 24. The next highest rates were for adults aged 45 to 54 (45.2%) and aged 55 to 64 (45.9%). Teenagers under the age of 18 and seniors 65 and older had much lower rates. Sadly, the number of opioid-involved ED visits increased for all age groups (except ages 10 – 17).
How is Prescription Drug Abuse Treated?
The options for treating prescription drug abuse may vary. It depends on the drug used and what is needed by the individual. However, counseling is generally a key part of treatment.
- Detoxification (Detox): Most people will require a period of withdrawal from the drug. Medication in a medically supervised detox can ease the symptoms of withdrawal.
- Counseling: After detoxing, the person is ready for a treatment program of some type where they will receive counseling from a licensed drug counselor or addiction specialist. This helps discover underlying factors for drug abuse such as mental issues or relationship problems. Through counseling, a person will learn the skills necessary to develop positive relationships, resist cravings, and what to do in case of relapse.
- Support groups: During and after treatment, a person needs the support of family, friends, and other organizations. A treatment program can help you find such groups.
Finding Your Prescription for Drug Detox
Has your prescription drug use turned into misuse? Maybe someone close to you is having a problem. At West Valley Detox, we can provide a comprehensive treatment program from a medically assisted detox to help you safely through withdrawal to an alumni program to help you maintain your recovery.
You don’t have to suffer from addiction. There is help for you in Southern California. West Valley has experienced and caring addiction specialists whose only job is to help you recover. Get the help you need and deserve. Contact us today.