War on drugs: the rise of prescription drug addiction

The war against illegal substances has been fought for many years. When speaking about addiction, many will assume it is against illicit drugs, alcohol or nicotine. Not many are aware just how many people are abusing legal drugs and the statistics are quite shocking.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2010 alone, an estimated 7 million people were taking prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. 2.7 percent were U.S citizens. 5.1 million were abusing pain relievers and 2.2 million abusing tranquilisers. Yet the topic of prescription drug abuse is not widely spoken about and many do not realise how easy it is to become addicted to them.

Image courtesy of The Javorac via Flickr

Image courtesy of The Javorac via Flickr

This can be accounted by the fact that the availability of these legal drugs is widespread. For example, between 1991 and 2010 alone, prescriptions for stimulants rocketed from 5 million to nearly 45 million. In biological terms, prescription drugs work by interacting with the brain’s receptors. They work by decreasing the brain’s perception of pain and therefore, have an addictive quality. They also create a temporary feeling of euphoria which can easily lead to physical dependency. Importantly, a sense of dysphoria tends to follow.

According to The Foundation for a Drug-Free World, in 2006, 2.6 million people in the U.S abused prescription drugs for the first time. It has also been estimated that in the U.S more than 15 million people abuse prescription drugs which amounts to more than the number of people who use cocaine, heroin, inhalants and hallucinogens combined.

It can be argued that nobody seeks to be addicted to legal drugs. The fact that they are readily available and are legal means that they are easy to abuse. There is also a misconception that they are safe, due to the fact that they are prescribed by doctors who are professional medics. They are safe and are prescribed for a reason, and usually for a specific duration. It is when they are used out of context that the danger settles in. People do this for a number of reasons such as to relieve pain or illness, to get high, to battle sleep problems or to curb anxiety.
Whilst they may seem harmless and lawful, all prescription drugs come with a serious risk. They have a similar effect on the brain as illicit drugs and can potentially lead to overdoses, severe health side effects, addiction and death.

Common prescription drug abuses include:

  • Opioids which are used to treat pain
    They attack the same receptors that heroin does and so can be highly addictive. They can be so addictive that it is not uncommon for people to snort or inject them in some way. Opioids are often taken along with alcohol and this is a huge risk. They end up suppressing the respiration system.

  • CNS depressants used to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia
    These are highly addictive as they induce as sense of euphoria. They can be so addictive that chronic users can experience severe withdrawal symptoms. Seizures can be so intense that they can be life threatening.

  • Stimulants which are used for example, to treat ADHD
    Addiction symptoms can range from seizures, psychosis and cardiovascular complications.

There are a number of dangers when abusing prescription drugs and these can include:

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