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Prescription drug abuse.

A similar version of this story first appeared on Alpine Recovery Lodge's Blog.

Prescription medications are part of millions of Americans’ daily existence — at least 60 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. While medications can be helpful and even life-saving, some are addictive and have a high abuse potential.

Prescription drug abuse

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug abuse was the top cause of injury death in the United States in 2013. Amazingly, this means more Utahns died from overdosing on prescription drugs than in traffic accidents.

Some people start taking these medications as prescribed for legitimate pain but end up becoming addicted to them.

The combined presence of addictive medications that are highly prevalent and — to some degree — accepted in the community, especially among teens, according to TeenHelp.com, creates an environment where people are vulnerable to prescription pill abuse and addiction.

Prescription drugs are dangerous and potentially deadly when abused. For instance:

  • 54.2 percent of prescription drugs are obtained free from a friend or relative not from a prescription, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Roughly 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs — about 3 percent of the population. The most commonly abused drugs include opioids (e.g., Vicodin), depressants (e.g., Xanax) and stimulants (e.g., Ritalin), PBS.org reports
  • An overdose death from prescription drugs occurs every 19 minutes in America, CRC Health Group says
  • In 2011, more people had emergency room vists for prescription drug use than for illegal drug use, according to the United Nations 2011 World Drug Report
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that non-medical prescription drug use is higher in Utah than in New York
  • The majority of teens who abuse prescription drugs say they do so because these drugs are readily available, especially from their parents’ medicine cabinets according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse
The reality of prescription opioid abuse

Opioids are among the most commonly abused and prescribed medications — though prescription drug abusers can still get the drug if they don’t have a prescription.

From the National Institute on Drug Abuse, here are some facts about the dangers of prescription opioid use.

  • Opioids are frequently abused because they cause short-term euphoria
  • Opioid abuse can lead to overdose deaths
  • When taken with alcohol, opioids can cause the heart rate and breathing to slow down, which may lead to coma or death
  • When taken during pregnancy opioids can cause miscarriage as well as low birth weight and neonatal abstinence syndrome
  • Older adults are at a higher risk of accidentally misusing or abusing opiods because of possible interactions with other medications, their slower metabolization of these drugs with age and the frequency with which these medications are prescribed to older adults.
  • People who inject opioids intravenously have a higher risk of HIV, hepatitis and other diseases that can come from sharing needles.
  • Withdrawal effects from opioids include insomnia, muscle and bone pain, diarrhea, vomiting, cold sweats and muscle twitches.
  • Behavioral therapies to treat heroin addiction can also be used to treat prescription opioid addiction.
Saving our families from prescription drug abuse

How can a family offer support to a struggling family member? How do we prevent prescription drug abuse in our families? These are important questions, especially if you have a family member who takes a potentially addictive prescription medication or if you have teenagers and prescription pills in the home.

In terms of prevention, parents have a strong influence on children and their choice to use or not use drugs, according to the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence. Parents can share with their children what they learned in this article and become educated on the signs of prescription drug abuse so they know what to look for.

When it comes to supporting a family member with an addiction, consider professional help coordinating a family intervention. If an intervention isn't planned out and coordinated with a mental health professional, then the chances of it working diminish, and it the intervention may actually cause unintended consequences the Mayo Clinic reports.

The truth about prescription drug use is that dangerous drugs such as opioids are widely available. Addiction to prescription drugs can ruin lives and sometimes end them. The first step to combatting the problem of prescription medication abuse is for people to get educated on the potentially harmful effects of these drugs so they are more careful with their use.

Prescription drug use statistics

Here are some key findings about U.S. prescription drug use from a Mayo Clinic study.

  • Antibiotics, antidepressants and pain killing opioids are the country's most regularly prescribed medications
  • 13 percent of the population has a prescription for opioids
  • 20 percent of people take five or more prescription medications
  • Women and older adults take more medications than the rest of the population
  • Roughly 1 in 4 women aged 50-64 is taking an antidepressant
  • Prescription drug use has risen in recent decades. Between 1999 and 2000, 44 percent of Americans reported taking a prescription drug in the preceding month. This figure rose to 48 percent between 2007-08.