Prescription (Rx) drug abuse has become one of the leading drug problems in the nation, especially among teens. In fact, Rx drugs are the most commonly abused substances by teens 14 and older, after marijuana and alcohol. Although prescription drugs are made to provide relief from a variety of symptoms, they can have adverse effects when taken improperly. Nearly 1 in 4 teens (23%) report taking a prescription drug not prescribed to them by a doctor at least once in their lives.
Rx drug abuse happens when someone takes a medication without a prescription, in a way other than prescribed (such as using more than the amount prescribed), or to get “high.” Unfortunately, some believe the myth that prescription drugs can provide a “safe” high. In reality, prescription drug abuse can have bad side effects like dizziness, sweating, and constipation. Abusing prescription drugs can lead to addiction, overdose, and even death. Even if a medicine is specifically prescribed for you, if you don’t follow the instructions for using it safely, it may have the potential to be misused. Taking medicine that wasn’t prescribed for you at all is abuse. It is no different than abusing alcohol or illicit drugs. Prescription medicines are usually safe when used correctly under a doctor’s supervision. But using prescription drugs that aren’t intended for you, or mixing them with any amount of alcohol or illicit drugs, can result in serious health conditions – some of which are fatal. Unfortunately, many teens believe that prescription drugs are safer than alcohol or illicit drugs, and that abusing them isn’t risky – but it is and it is also illegal. Sadly, most teenagers who abuse prescription drugs acquire them for free by a friend or relative.
Abusing certain painkillers is similar to abusing heroin because their ingredients affect the brain in the same way. Sleeping pills can slow your breathing and your heart, which can be fatal–especially if combined with certain prescription pain medicines, alcohol, or over-the-counter cold remedies. Abusing medicines intended to treat ADHD can cause irregular heartbeats or deadly seizures. Mixing them with cold medicines could make these dangerous effects worse. If abused, some medications can slow breathing, cause irregular heartbeats, be addictive, and even kill you.
Examples: Fentanyl (Duragesic), Hydrocodone (Vicodin), Oxycodone (OxyContin)
Opioid abuse can lead to constipation, depression, and poor coordination. People who abuse these drugs can build tolerance, which means more of the drug is needed to produce the same effect. This can make a person more susceptible to addiction, overdose, or death. Dangers linked with abuse include: sweating, difficulty breathing, brain damage, seizures, nausea.
Research suggests that abusing prescription opioid pain medications such as Oxycontin® and Vicodin® can be a gateway to heroin abuse. In recent studies, almost half of the young people who were surveyed that used heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before using heroin. Certain individuals stated that they took up heroin because it was cheaper and easier to acquire than prescription opioids.
There is evidence which confirms that opioid use can lead to depressed respiration which can adversely affect long-term brain function. When there is not enough oxygen that can reach the brain, hypoxia can occur. Hypoxia has short and long-term psychological and neurological effects which includes coma and permanent brain damage. Furthermore, studies show that long-term use of opioids lead to the deterioration of the brain’s white matter which affect a person’s decision-making abilities, behavior regulation, and responses in stressful environments.
Examples: Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), Diazepam (Valium), Alprazolam (Xanax)
Depressants causes a decrease in brain activity making a person sleepy or lose coordination. Depressant abuse can lead to poor judgement, confusion, and dizziness. Some dangerous side effects of abuse include: addiction (due to physical dependence), agitation, irritability (due to withdrawal symptoms), high blood pressure, decreased breathing, and decreased heart rate. When depressant abuse stops, the brain’s activity can race out of control, leading to seizures and other serious health problems.
Examples: Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), Methylphenidate (Concerta & Ritalin), Amphetamines (Adderall)
While stimulants increases alertness, attention, and energy it also elevates blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates. Stimulant abuse can lead to impulsive behavior, insomnia, hostility, or feelings of paranoia. Using stimulants can have strong effects on the cardiovascular system like raising body temperature to dangerous levels, causing irregular heartbeats which can cause heart failure or seizures.
More than 3 in 5 people who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family. Break the cycle by keeping the medications in your home safely guarded.
Monitor – Make sure to take inventory of your medications. Keep track of any missing and quickly-used medications.
Secure – Lock up your medications or keep them in a secure area to reduce access. Do not leave them in a bathroom or kitchen where they can be easily accessed and abused by family members.
Destroy – Properly destroy unused or expired medications at home.
Step 1: Pour unused, unwanted, or expired medications out of their original containers into a airtight or ziplock bag.
Step 2: Pour hot water (over 110॰F – about as hot as a cup of coffee) into the bag.
Step 3: Insert an absorbent substance (e.g kitty litter, dirt, or cotton) into the bag. Seal the bag and place in trash bin.
Myth: “It is okay to use a family member’s or friend’s prescription drugs.”
Fact: It is never okay to share prescription drugs with anyone for any reason. All drugs, whether prescribed, over-the-counter, or illegal can have negative side effects. It is important for people to know that just because a prescription is safe for one individual does not mean it is safe for another.
Myth: “You can’t get in trouble at school for abusing Rx drugs.”
Fact: Schools have a Zero-Tolerance Policy, which enforces disciplinary
action for the possession, distribution, sale or abuse of a controlled substance (illegal or illegal drug) on school campuses. Students who break the Zero-Tolerance Policy face suspension or expulsion. Having this on your record could lead to being denied admission into a college and denied scholarship eligibility.
Myth: “There are no legal consequences for misusing or abusing Rx drugs.”
Fact: Depending on the seriousness of the crime and past criminal record, a person will be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony for stealing, sharing, or supplying Rx drugs. This can result in financial penalties or incarceration. In the state of California, if you are convicted for driving under the influence (DUI) of drugs (including prescription drugs) you will face jail time or community service, 6 to 9 months of a suspended license, DUI school, DUI probation for 3 to 5 years, and about $22,500 in fines for those under the age of 21.
Myth: Prescription painkillers, even if they are not prescribed by a doctor, are not addictive.
Fact: Prescription painkillers act on the same site in the brain as heroin and can be addictive.
Myth: There is nothing wrong with using prescription drugs without a doctor’s consent.
Fact: Taking prescription medicine that your doctor didn’t prescribe and doesn’t know about can be harmful, especially if it shouldn’t be mixed with other drugs prescribed for you. Furthermore, mixing prescription drugs with other illegal drugs or alcohol
Myth: If a prescription drug is legal and widely available, it must be safe.
Fact: Prescription drugs are safest when used correctly under a doctor’s supervision. Taking prescription drugs that aren’t intended for you and/or mixing them with alcohol or illicit drugs can result in potentially deadly consequences.
Stress is a basic part of life, even for teens. Stress is our body’s natural way of preparing for us to deal with a difficult situation. On the bright side, there are healthy and positive ways to handle stress:
Talk It Out. Build a strong network of people you can trust to help you deal with stressful situations. Expressing our feelings can be relieving. It can also help you feel supported by others and work out your problems.
Laugh. Laughter can help relieve stress! Make time to do something fun, such as watching a funny movie, reading a humorous book, or going to a comedy show.
Learn to Relax. Develop a regular relaxation routine. Try listening to music, talking to friends, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet.
Find Your Natural High. Your Natural High can be any activity you enjoy doing that keeps you away from drugs. These activities include sports, music, art, writing, comedy, helping others, and much more!
If you have a loved one who you may think is dealing with an opiate addiction, learn how to help them and find out what rehab is like.