Prescription Drug Abuse: Pain Killers Can Lead to Addition

Prescription drug abuse: Pain conditions can lead to addictions by Jennifer Wezensky

According to the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 6.9 million people ages 12 or older used prescription medications for nonmedical use in the month before being surveyed. That total included 5.2 million using pain relievers, 1.8 million using tranquilizers, 1.1 million using stimulants and 350,000 using sedatives.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported that about one-third of all U.S. drug abuse is prescription-drug abuse.

Locally, as many as 30 percent of the patients in the inpatient and outpatient treatment at the Community Healing Centers are addicted to prescription drugs, said Sally Reames, executive director of the nonprofit substance-abuse-treatment agency. And many have “secondary” addictions to alcohol, she said, a potentially fatal combination.

People often mistakenly believe that prescription drugs are safe because a doctor is prescribing them, said Dr. Michael Liepman, a professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies and medical director of the Jim Gilmore Jr. Community Healing Center. Many patients who end up addicted to prescription drugs start with a legitimate pain condition.

“Sometimes people think, ‘If one pill makes me feel better, three will be better,'” said Dr. Richard Tooker, chief medical officer for Kalamazoo County. In the case of pain killers derived from opium, increasing the amount taken can be deadly because these drugs decrease brain activity, breathing rates and heart rates.

The prescription drugs that Reames has observed are most often abused are Vicodin, OxyContin and the anti-anxiety medication Xanax.

Liepman said he sees extensive addiction to opiate pain killers, anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, Klonopin and Ativan as well as abuse of drugs prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The problems due to abuse of prescription drugs are not as widely known as the problems caused by illegal drugs. While both are serious for many that would not consider taking illegal drugs the dangers of prescription drugs and alcohol are the biggest risks. People must be careful to use powerful drugs as directed and even then understand there are real risks to doing so.

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