The Dangers of Prescription Painkillers

by Eric Dunbar

Prescription painkillersIn recent years, deaths from overdose of prescription painkillers have risen from 4,030 in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010. Deaths from prescription painkillers have surpassed deaths from both cocaine and heroin combined. According to the CDC, in 2012 drug overdoses killed about 105 people per day in America totaling 38,000 deaths. Of this number, prescription painkillers killed about 45 people per day, totaling 16,500 people.

Opioid painkillers are the most frequently abused prescription painkillers. The most frequently used Opioid medications include: OxyContin, Oxycodone, Vicodin, Morphine, and Methadone followed by central nervous system (NCS) depressants like Valium and Ativan, that are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, and stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin that are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy.

The biggest problem that we face with prescription drugs is when people take them for non-medical use. About one in twenty people in America use prescription painkillers just for the high that they produce and this number is growing.

The Risks of Taking Prescription Medications

When used correctly and under a doctor’s supervision, prescription pain relievers are safe and effective. But if you abuse them, or mix them with illegal drugs or alcohol, they could lead to your death. If you mix prescription pain medication with other prescription drugs, such as antidepressants or over-the-counter medications, like cough syrups and antihistamines, it can lead to respiratory failure, which can be fatal. With some prescription pain relievers, all it takes is one pill.

Combining drugs can be unsafe. For example, if you combine any type of stimulant with an over-the-counter cold medication, it can cause an irregular heartbeat and raise your blood pressure to a dangerous and life-threatening level.

Taking Opioids that have been prescribed for someone else can cause a coma or even death. Taking stimulants and sedatives that have been prescribed for someone else can lead to seizures or cause memory problems. Some stimulants can cause an increase in body temperature and produce an abnormal heartbeat or cause paranoia. They can also cause problems with your heart which can be fatal.

Many prescription pain medications can be addictive, most especially opioids. If you become addicted to an opioid pain medication, you will be physically dependent on that drug, causing you to require more of the drug and in higher doses to get the same effect. If you quit taking opioids suddenly you will experience withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, vomiting, and pain in your bones.

If you become addicted to stimulants, withdrawal can lead to exhaustion, depression and sleep problems. Sudden withdrawal from certain tranquilizers and sedatives can be life-threatening. Remember, the bottom line is, prescription medication can be dangerous. If you don’t have to take them—DON’T.

What You Can Do to Help

If you use prescription painkillers there are several steps you can take to curb prescription drug overdose. You can take the following steps at home to help curb prescription drug overdose:

  • You should only use narcotic pain medication if it is absolutely necessary, and even then, you should use them responsibly.
  • Remember that prescription medications can kill if they are abused or taken in combination with other drugs.
  • Always store prescription medicines in a secure place, and ALWAYS dispose of them properly.
  • NEVER sell your prescription medications, or share them with others.

In addition to these measures, there are CDC recommended Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). These PDMPs are state-run electronic databases that are used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients.

There are also state laws to prevent prescription drug abuse. For more information view your state’s prescription drug laws.

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