A drug overdose is just one of the many serious side effects of substance abuse. And, whether it is alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription medication, addiction will always be a concern. Getting treatment that will help overcome the mental or behavioral issues that led to drug abuse is critical in avoiding the shockingly high probability of an eventual drug overdose.  Read more to learn the drug overdose facts that might surprise you.

A drug overdose can be either accidental or intentional. Unintentional drug overdoses tend to happen when people take more of a prescription medication than initially intended to achieve a specific result or when an addict uses too much of an illegal substance to get a better high. Intentional overdoses are usually the result of someone trying to commit suicide. Regardless of the intent, any drug overdose can have severe and lasting consequences.

Drug Overdose Facts and Statistics

  • According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were over 64,000 deaths in the United States due to a drug overdose in 2016 – nearly double what it was just ten years prior.
  • Almost 18,000 overdose deaths involved prescription opioid pain relievers in 2015 according to the same report.
    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the sale of prescription opioids in the U.S. has nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, but the amount of pain Americans report has not seen an overall change.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reported that 3 million American teens between the ages of 12-17, 9 million between 18-25, 26 million between 26-50 and 13 million age 50 and older had used prescription medication of non-intended/non-medical use.
  • According to a local Delaware publication, 11 people died due to a drug overdose during the 2017 Thanksgiving holiday weekend bringing the overdose-related death total to 215 for the year.

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is one of the most poorly recognized types of chemical dependency. Prescription drugs work by either suppressing or promoting chemical reactions in the brain. The three different classes of prescriptions that are most susceptible to abuse are:

  1. Stimulants: most commonly prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  2. Opiates: most often prescribed to treat severe or chronic pain
  3. Tranquilizers/sedatives: frequently prescribed to treat anxiety disorders or sleep disorders

Drug-seeking behaviors are the primary warning signs of prescription drug abuse. These behaviors include:

  • Frequent requests for refills from physicians
  • Losing prescriptions and requesting replacements regularly
  • Crushing or breaking pills
  • Stealing or borrowing prescription medications from family members, friends, or co-workers
  • Consuming prescriptions much faster than indicated
  • Visiting multiple doctors for similar conditions
  • Inconsistent answers to questions about prescription usage
  • Stealing or forging prescriptions
  • Consumption of over-the-counter drugs for the same conditions that a doctor has prescribed other medication
  • Ordering prescription medications over the internet
  • Several other behavior patterns often accompany prescription drug addiction such as:
  • Noticeable mood swings corresponding to availability or absence of prescription drugs
  • Changing sleep patterns
  • Increasing irritability, especially when prescriptions are unavailable
  • More frequent alcohol consumption

Causes of Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drugs are more controlled than over-the-counter medications. Only a licensed medical doctor, dentist, optometrist, or veterinarian may write the prescription. Registered nurses, medical assistants, clinical nurse specialists, nurse anesthetists, and nurse midwives, emergency medical technicians, psychologists, and social workers as examples, do not have the authority to prescribe drugs.

An alarming number of people are predisposed to becoming addicted when they start to abuse prescription drugs even after a legitimate prescription was written for them by their doctor. According to the drug overdose facts provided by NIDA, prescription drug abuse is increasing. The availability of drugs is likely one reason. Doctors are prescribing more drugs for more health problems, and the growing number of online pharmacies can make it easier to get prescription drugs without a prescription.

Most individuals don’t begin taking prescription drugs with the intention of abusing them. Over time, tolerance for the medication increases and they have to use more to receive the same effect. Many prescription drugs have the potential to become physically or psychologically addictive. To abruptly discontinue prescription medications could result in serious medical complications, like seizures or convulsions.

Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

When prescription drugs are taken for emotional problems without having been prescribed by a medical professional, or when they are used more than the prescription, addiction and chemical dependency and easily form. Although the abuser may not experience their depression for a period or they may be temporarily able to stop obsessing about a specific problem, in most cases, the problem is just made worse as they are not learning how to efficiently cope with the particular feelings and issues that lead to drug use.  This is one of the most perplexing drug overdose facts so far.

The abuse of prescription drugs often results in adverse effects on personal relationships, employment difficulties and job loss, financial difficulties, legal issues, and psychological problems. Prescription drug abuse and addiction are severe medical conditions that require professional treatment. Reducing the use of specific prescriptions can cause serious medical complications.

A True Account of Prescription Drug Abuse

Wendy started taking Vicodin after having a painful cyst removed from her knee at age 17. She was never told she could become addicted. The first pill made her slightly nauseous, but it also dulled the pain. She took the next medication six hours later – as prescribed. It made her feel warm and tingly.

The physical pain disappeared. It made her feel light as if she were floating.  In culinary school, Wendy heard about an appetite suppressant called Fen-Phen and got a prescription from her doctor. It made her less hungry and gave her energy. She continued taking Fen-Phen well after getting a job as an assistant manager at a restaurant after college. Soon, the pills weren’t enough. A doctor prescribed a muscle relaxant to take the pain away. Combined with Fen-Phen, she felt energized yet numb. The pills usually kept her in a good mood, but every now and again they had the opposite effect.

When Wendy was 29, she had surgery to fix two ruptured disks in her spine and was prescribed Vicodin. Just as when she was 17, the lighter-than-air feeling returned. Before long, she was taking one pill every two hours instead of every four to six. The Vicodin became less and less useful over the next few months. Wendy began to “doctor-shop” looking for anyone who would give her more pills. She was even visiting 24-hour urgent care clinics on the weekends saying she had run out or was going on a trip and didn’t want to run out.

A Steady Descent Into Drug Abuse Danger

After moving and getting a new job as an office manager for an upscale restaurant, Wendy learned about Adderall – a stimulant often prescribed for ADHD. It was popular with some restaurant workers because of the energy boost it provided. One pill made her feel more focused than ever before.  This is one of the drug overdose facts that people often overlook.  When a person gradually increases their dosages, the put themselves in danger of overdose or death.

Shortly after, a pain specialist discovered three more collapsed vertebrae in her neck and recommended surgery. The doctor prescribed Oxycontin. The first pill made her feel as if everything in her life was easy and delightful. Finally, when her doctor cut her off two months later, she was taking Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Adderall.

Paying the Ultimate Price

Wendy’s doctor read off the other offices she had visited and other prescriptions she had been given over the past few weeks. She started stealing prescription drugs from friends and neighbors. Of course, no one suspected her. She was a manager for her company. People trusted and respected her.

Three years, four cities and a divorce later, Wendy knew she was in trouble.  On her 40th birthday, Wendy visited a friend. They hugged hello, and the friend noticed Wendy was burning up with what seemed like a high fever. Later, Wendy awoke drenched in sweat and thought she had overdosed. She woke her friend and told them she had a pill problem. By that time, Wendy was taking three Adderall, four Oxycontin, and twelve Vicodin every day.

Fortunately, Wendy went to rehab in Southern California. After detox, inpatient treatment, a transitional house, and a sober-living house, she took a job as an intake counselor at a recovery treatment center.

Getting Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

Wendy’s story is becoming increasingly commonplace. Millions of Americans have reported using prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes. It can be difficult to detect if you or a loved one have a problem. Since prescription drugs can vary widely in their uses and side effects, there are no clear-cut signs that prove addiction. Someone who is continuously sleepy or who appears intoxicated could be under the influence of a depressant, such as Valium or Xanax, while hyperactivity could be a sign of dependency on a stimulant such as Ritalin or Adderall.

If you or someone you know is addicted to prescription drugs, the best thing you can do is reach out to a professional treatment center and seek help.  Heed the drug overdose facts listed above, and get into rehab immediately.

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