When people talk about dangerous drugs, they’re usually talking about illegal street drugs like heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. Surprisingly, these narcotics are not responsible for the most deaths per year. The deadliest drugs in America are legal. Prescription painkillers cause more deaths than all other drugs combined. Before taking any prescription opioid, it’s important to understand the risks of medication abuse.
The side effects of opioids include slowed heart rate and breathing. When the drug is abused and an overly strong dose is taken, it can cause heart rate and breathing to become dangerously slow, potentially resulting in coma or death. Opioids are particularly dangerous when snorted or injected because the effects of the drug happen quickly and all at once rather than slowly extended over a longer period of time. Taking painkillers in conjunction with similar drugs can also cause the effects to combine and have a much stronger impact. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prescription painkillers are responsible for more than 22,000 deaths by overdose per year.
Besides an overdose, painkillers can cause serious injury in a number of other ways. Lowered breathing levels can cause the brain to receive insufficient oxygen over a period a time, which is called hypoxia. In effect, the drug abuser is suffocating in open air. This can cause both short- and long-term neurological effects, including coma and brain damage. Opioid use has also been shown to lead to the use of other dangerous drugs, including heroin. Nearly half of heroin users started out by abusing prescription pain medication. Injecting opioids such as prescription painkillers or heroin increases the likelihood of HIV and AIDS infection. The longer the abuse lasts, the more likely it is for serious health problems to result.
Extended use of prescription opioids leads to a vicious cycle of abuse. Prescription painkillers flood the user’s brain with dopamine, which causes intense feelings of euphoria and pleasure. As users continue to take the drugs, they will begin to crave these highs and become addicted. Repeated doses of the drug will eventually wear out the addicts’ receptors for dopamine, requiring larger and larger doses of the drug to get the same euphoric feeling. These immense doses can eventually lead to overdose, as the body is overwhelmed by more opioids than it can handle.
Prescription painkillers are powerful medications that are only safe for use when taken under the close supervision of a medical professional. When used outside of the prescribed dosage or used for nonmedical purposes, these medications usually turn deadly.
If you or someone you know is abusing prescription opioids, the time is now to seek recovery. Call the Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California to learn more. A qualified addiction specialist is available 24/7 to provide information on your treatment options.