The prescription drug addiction problem in the United States has reached an unprecedented level. Recently, in the news, we hear stories about various actions taken by some states to crack down on the abundance of prescription drugs. Other efforts include teaching safety procedures to those who have these drugs in their homes. Preventing these substances from getting into the hands of someone who plans to use them non-medically is of vital importance.
All drugs, regardless of chemical makeup or effects, can be grouped into two broad categories:
- Proprietary, or over-the-counter, medications that can be purchased by anyone at a drugstore
- Ethical, or prescription, drugs that can be obtained legally only with a doctor’s prescription.
This article will discuss drugs of the second group, prescription drugs exclusively.
New drugs are continually being tested, and some of them manage to hit the shelves. Some of the most recently-approved, with their benefits and potential side effects, include:
- Dotarem – a paramagnetic contrast agent, used for magnetic resonance imaging; can increase the risk of nephrogenic systemic fibrosis, in particular among patients with severe cases of kidney disease or injury.
- Isoproterenol – treats certain kinds of heart block cases and the bronchospasms that often accompany anesthesia; may cause allergic reactions or chest pain or interact with other medications.
- Latisse – an ophthalmic solution formulated to treat eyelash hypotrichosis. Dryness and burning in the eyes are among the adverse reactions to the drug that have been reported post-marketing.
- Qsymia – comes in the form of extended release capsules of phentermine hydrochloride; made to aid in the weight loss of patients who are chronically obese. Its effects on mortality and interactions with other drugs are not established.
- Tecfidera – delayed-release capsules whose ingredients include gelatin and titanium dioxide; for patients who are suffering from relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis; known to cause flushing, for which three percent of patients prescribed the drug had to stop taking it.
The FDA has just approved a new drug called Invokana as a treatment for type 2 diabetes. It has helped many patients to lose weight (six to eight pounds, according to one twenty-six-week study) and keep their high blood pressure and blood-sugar levels under control, but will be much more expensive than other diabetes medications – $10 a pill vs. 25 cents for metformin.
Statistics on Prescription Drugs for 2016
Records compiled by drugs.com indicate that the prescription drug that earned the most in sales during 2012 was Nexium, a proton pump inhibitor that treats diseases like dyspepsia and gastroesophageal reflux disease by preventing the formation of gastric acid. It made $5,638,773 that year. Close behind on the list were Abilify, with $5,602,876; Creator, with $4,763,616; and Advair Diskus, with $4,617,652. The most widely prescribed drug is Vicodin, with 131.2 million prescriptions, and Zocor, with 94.1 million.
Abuse of and Addiction to Prescription Drugs
Prescription drugs can be abused for non-medical purposes, just like any drugs can be. Abuse of prescription medicine is, in fact, fast becoming an epidemic among both teenagers and older people. Stimulants, depressants, and painkillers are among the prescription drugs most commonly abused in this way. In 2006, two million teens reported having abused prescription medications, as have twenty percent of persons over the age of twelve. Citizens’ battles against prescription drug abuse is reflected in such activities as the National Multimedia Outreach Campaign Addressing Prescription Medicine Misuse by Youth 12 to 17 and Young Adults 18 to 25. This campaign entered its fifth phase just two years ago.
Drugs That are Prescribed to Treat Addiction
Many drugs are prescribed specifically to treat drug addiction. However, even such drugs can themselves be highly addictive. Methadone, for instance, has been commonly prescribed since the 1960s for patients who are addicted to heroin. Yet not only do many heroin addicts who have been prescribed methadone shift to becoming addicted to the latter drug, but the symptoms of the new addiction can be similar to those of the old one — and in numerous cases, they are even more severe and prolonged. There are also cases of methadone patients selling the drug in order to obtain the money to buy more heroin — with the result being a new street market for methadone addicts. Even if methadone does not produce addiction, patients prescribed the drug often experience the withdrawal symptoms that come with heroin addiction, no matter how long they have been off it, so the patient may have to take methadone for the rest of his or her life.
Doctors, too, can misuse their prescribing power to prescribe drugs for their patients that they do not actually need, for various reasons — some may do so in order to keep them dependent or to commit dishonest or criminal acts, others simply want to indulge their patients already-existing cravings. One of the most notorious cases of such occurrences is, of course, that of Conrad Murray, the physician who was discovered to have unnecessarily prescribed the sedative lorazepam for Michael Jackson, who subsequently died when that drug interacted with a self-administered dose of protocol, causing his death. During the trial it was revealed that Jackson, who had been suffering from insomnia, had often begged Dr. Murray to prescribe him enough drugs to put him to sleep, and that the doctor had given in. He was convicted of manslaughter.
Are There Any Completely Safe Drugs?
There is no such thing as a drug that is perfectly safe. Any drug can be beneficial if used properly, and harmful or fatal if used improperly.
Here are some important rules to follow with regard to prescription drugs:
- Never take a drug that has been prescribed for another person. It may work for that person but not for you because of physical differences, and besides you may not even have the same disease, but only one that appears to have similar symptoms. Only a licensed health care worker can determine what kinds of drugs will and will not help you.
- Do not save prescription drugs for later use. Just as you may not have the same disease as someone else, so you may not have the same disease that you had earlier. Get a new prescription with each illness.
- Follow all instructions on the prescription bottle. Drugs can often produce unpredictable effects. If this happens to you, report it to the doctor who prescribed the drug.
- Always inform your prescriber of any prescription drugs that you are already taking from a different practitioner. Two drugs that are relatively harmless by themselves can produce explosive results when taken in tandem.
All drugs change chemically over time, and the change may make them cease to be effective or even become harmful. The medicine label should tell you you how long the drug will remain stable. If it does not, ask your pharmacist.
Learn More About Prescription Drug Safety, Addiction, and Treatment
In January of 2012 the Pharmaceutical Marketing Accountability Act was introduced into the Pennsylvania State Senate to make it more difficult for doctors to abuse their prescribing powers and also to reduce the chances of harmful interactions between medications that have been prescribed by different physicians. One of its proposals includes the formation of a statewide prescription database. Hopefully, other states will follow this measure and help make a difference nationwide.
If you would like more information about prescription drugs, addiction, and treatment programs, please call our toll-free number today. One of our knowledgeable staff can answer your questions and help you select a treatment program for yourself or a loved one.