Self-medication emerging cause of widespread prescription drug abuse

Self-medication emerging cause of widespread prescription drug abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while the deaths due to drug overdose increased in 2014, most overdoses, nearly six out of 10, were due to opioids. The report further suggested that the deaths due to opioid use have quadrupled since 1999. According to the report, “78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose”.

Prescription drug overdose has become an epidemic, especially in the United States. Opioids are the most widely abused prescription drug. The U.S. has witnessed a surge in the number of deaths due to prescription opioids such as oxycodone, hydrocodone and methadone. One of the reasons considered to be a major driving factor behind the surge in opioid overdose is the rise in sales of prescription opioids, which, according to the CDC, has also nearly quadrupled since 1999.

The rise in opioid sales is further due to self-medication. People tend to share their prescription drugs with friends and family who may appear to be suffering from a similar condition. Unused medication in medicine cabinets at home is readily available to others who may decide to use it.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) conducted a federal survey to record the use, misuse and abuse of prescription drugs in the United States. According to the survey, while 119 million Americans aged 12 and over (nearly 45 percent of the population) took prescription psychotherapeutic drugs, approximately 19 million Americans took drugs without a prescription. The survey further revealed that more than a third had a prescription but took an excessive amount of the drug. The survey concluded that 16 percent of all prescription drugs were actually misused.

Transition from non-medical use to misuse

In the past, consumption of a drug without a medical purpose or drug taken by an individual which has not been prescribed by a medical practitioner, was termed as non-medical use. The use primarily focused on experiencing or feeling the effect of the drug. The term did not define the criterion for overuse of prescribed medication. In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) rephrased the term as misuse which included concerns such as “use without a prescription of the respondent’s own, use in greater amounts, more often, or longer than the respondent was told to take them, use in any other way a doctor did not direct the person to use them.”

Commonly abused prescription drugs

Prescription drug abuse has recently escalated, particularly among teens, women and elderly people. Easy availability, no legal barriers and available by a doctor’s prescription, frequent self-medication by people has played a major role in increasing the rate of prescription drug abuse. Commonly abused prescription drugs include:

  • Opioids: These are pain relievers with a heavy addiction potential. Excessive use of opioids causes effects such as drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, constipation and respiratory difficulty. Additionally, they also affect the region of the brain involved in reward, causing a euphoric effect.
  • Stimulants: These are medications that work to improve alertness and cognitive function. Additionally, they also increase the level of dopamine (neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, movement, and attention) in the brain.
  • Antidepressants: These drugs are given to treat depression as they work to correct the chemical imbalance in the brain that causes mood and behavioral changes. However, these drugs are often misused as they can also cause euphoric effects.

Road to recovery

In the wake of rising prescription drug abuse, it has become important to keep a check on the sale, purchase and use of prescribed drugs. While doctors should be careful when prescribing drugs to their patients, they should also counsel them about the hazards of self-medication.

If you or your loved one is addicted to prescription drugs and is seeking treatment, you may contact the California Prescription Abuse Helpline for information about various prescription drug rehabs in California. You may also call our 24/7 helpline number (855) 738-2770 or chat online to learn about the best drug rehab centers in California.