The use and abuse of prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications, although technically legal, can lead to addiction just like illegal “street drugs.”
A 2005 study conducted at Columbia University by the National Center on Addictions and Substance Abuse (NCASA) found that 15 to 17 million people living in North America alone answered yes to abusing prescription drugs, which is a 200% increase from a decade prior.
In the same study, results showed that 30% of all hospital emergency room deaths are attributed to prescription drug use and abuse. Further, when patients are treated for substance-related complications in an emergency room, 80% of the substances are prescription drugs, and over-the-counter medications.
The increase in airport security post-9/11 made drugs like ecstasy less available to users within the United States. That, paired with an increase in prescription drug availability via the Internet and through licensed medical doctors, has lead to a rise of seven times the number of people abusing prescription drugs in the United States in 2005 versus ten years before.
The most noticeable and most rapid increase in the abuse of legal substances has been in the prescription opioid category: pain medications. Opioids, the fully synthetic versions of opiates, including Vicodin, OxyContin, Valium, Xanax, Norco and other brand name drugs, have become commonplace when discussing drug addiction.
Vicodin, or hydrocodone, is the most widely used and abused prescription opioid, and is the reason many people require prescription drug treatment. The appeal of the drug: it lowers pain and causes less nausea than codeine-based drugs.
Facts about Vicodin addiction:
- By 2004, 18% of teenagers, or 4.3 million individuals age 13-19, had abused Vicodin.
- In 2005, 2.3 million teens admitted to abusing OxyContin at least one time.
- 13% of people age twelve and older (almost 33 million American citizens) had used a prescribed pain reliever in a non-medical capacity in their lifetime.
○ 4.7 million people said they had done so in the past month.
- The 2005 NCASA study also found that 75% of physicians and 50% of pharmacists had not been taught to evaluate symptoms, or risk factors, to identify misuse and potential abuse of the drugs they are prescribing.
- In 2006, more than 120 million prescriptions for hydrocodone, or Vicodin, were written, the most of any drug prescribed.
- Overdoses on Vicodin alone account for about 600 deaths each year.
In small doses, opiates or opioids depress the central nervous system. Users experience relaxed muscles, a slower heart rate and rate of respiration, decreased coordination, a dulling of the senses, sleepiness, and most importantly, pain diminishment.
When used appropriately, opiates and opioids serve as an acute pain reliever, a treatment for diarrhea, as they can cause constipation, and to suppress a cough.
The identification of Vicodin misuse, Vicodin abuse andVicodin addiction,is supported by the following symptoms:
· Emotional numbness, or drowning out emotional pain
· Slower reaction time
· Experiencing a physical rush
· Inducing euphoria
· Persistent constipation
· Prevention of withdrawal symptoms
· Decreased anxiety
· A sense of detachment
· Pinpointed pupils
· Dry skin
· Slowed respiration
· Loss of sexual desire
Since the area of the brain that signals pleasure is the same area that signals pain, the continuation of opioid use is often driven by a desire to prevent or stop withdrawal symptoms.
Those suffering from a Vicodin addiction experience physical, psychological, and social side effects.
Physically, the heart, lungs, brain, eyes, larynx (voice box), muscles, couch and nausea centers, reproductive system, digestive system, excretory system, and immune system are all negatively affected.
Psychologically, Vicodin addicts experience escape:
“I injured myself and I was on hydrocodone, you know. I’d take one, next hour and a half I’d be real sleepy and lightheaded…be dizzy. It’s like being drunk. I developed a small addiction to it, you know. It was an easy escape; pop a pill, drink some water, drown my fears away, drown the pain away – feel good for a while.”
- 24-year-old weightlifter and Vicodin addict
Socially, prescription drug addiction can lead to legal issues, relationship dysfunction, financial difficulties, and problems at work or loss of employment.
|PHYSICAL SIDE EFFECTSPOST USE||PHYSICAL SIDE EFFECTSWHILE USING (ACUTE)|
|Insensitivity to pain||Eyelids droop|
|Lowered blood pressure||Head nods|
|Lowered pulse and respiration||Speech is slurred, slowed, and raspy or horse|
Jared Friedman is the quality improvement manager at Sovereign Health Group, learn more about his work by reading his blog entries at http://www.sovcal.com/sovblog/.