Prescription medications are being abused by Americans in plethoric amounts, and rapidly growing is this deadly epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse. Most people use prescription medications responsibly, however, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Two million people reported using prescription painkillers non-medically,” that is, for such reasons other than prescribed.
It seems that people seeking a “high” or euphoric feeling from pain medication is what most often leads to overdosing. Yet, misuse of painkillers may also be caused by the miseducation of consumers. Nearly three out of four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescribed painkillers, according to the CDC.
The most common abused painkillers are opioids, amphetamines and benzodiazepines, also known as benzos. Opioids are derived from the opium poppy seed and can be found in popular trade names like Vicodin, Oxycontin and Fentanyl. Amphetamine-like drugs affect the central nervous system and are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder; the drugs Ritalin and Adderall can be held responsible for that effect. Benzos also effect the central nervous system and are used to induce sleep, preclude seizures and alleviate anxiety. These factors can be found in Xanax, Valium and Ativan.
There is no question as to the illicit use of pain medications across the nation, but who is to blame for this misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers? Is it the inadequate pain assessment or follow-up evaluations made by healthcare providers or the high accessibility to spurious pain clinics or the pharmacy at every corner and in every grocery store? Let’s not leave out the patient who is doctor-shopping, obtaining different prescriptions from several doctors.
Obviously, pointing the finger is not the answer, but maybe looking towards the prevention is. Tell your doctor about your complete medical history and if you are getting prescriptions from other physicians. Take charge of your health by educating yourself about side effects that you are unsure of by asking the doctor to use the smallest dose of pain medication that is most effective.
For more information about this topic, visit the CDC’s website at cdc.gov/vitalsigns/PainkillerOverdoses .
Chaka Soulemane is a registered nurse based at a magnet hosptial in Los Angeles who works with patients that are acutely ill with a spectrum of diseases ranging from renal disease to diabetes.