Q. Aren’t prescription drugs safer than illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin?
A. No. Many people think that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin because the manufacturing of prescription drugs is regulated or because they are prescribed by doctors. These circumstances don’t mean these drugs are safe when not prescribed or when taken in ways other than as prescribed. Similar to illicit drugs, prescription drugs can have powerful effects in the brain and body. Prescription painkillers act on the same sites in the brain as heroin; prescription stimulants have effects in common with cocaine. Sometimes people take the medications in ways that can be very dangerous in both the short and long term (e.g., crushing pills and snorting or injecting the contents). Also, abusing prescription drugs is illegal—and that includes sharing prescriptions with friends.
Q. What happens when you abuse prescription drugs?
A. Abusing prescription drugs can have negative short- and long-term health consequences. The health consequences associated with the effects of prescription drug abuse are potentially lethal depending on factors such as frequency of use, the kind of drug taken, how much is taken, how quickly it gets into the brain (quick release v. extended release or long acting), what other drugs are taken at the same time, the differences in body size and chemistry, and the length of time the drugs are used. The worst consequences include death and permanent disability. Other types of consequences include employment difficulties or job loss, legal issues, and financial difficulties. Symptoms of drug use differ depending upon the type of drug taken.
- Stimulant abuse can cause paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, and an irregular heartbeat, especially if stimulants are taken in large doses or in ways other than swallowing a pill.
- Abuse of opioids can cause drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and, depending on the amount taken, slowed breathing.
- Abusing depressants can cause slurred speech, shallow breathing, fatigue, disorientation, lack of coordination, and seizures.
- Abusing over-the-counter drugs that contain Dextromethorphan (DXM) —which usually involves taking doses much bigger than recommended for treating coughs and colds—can impair motor function (such as walking or sitting up); produce numbness, nausea, and vomiting; and increase heart rate and blood pressure.
- Abusing any type of mind-altering drug can affect judgment and inhibition.
Q. How are prescription drugs abused?
A. It depends—some people take other people’s medications for their intended purposes (e.g., to relieve pain, to stay awake, or to fall asleep). Others take prescription medications to get high by taking larger doses than prescribed or by a different route of administration, such as by breaking or crushing a pill or capsule and then snorting the ingredients.
Q. What are the most commonly abused prescription and over-the-counter drugs?
A. Opioids (e.g. OxyContin and Vicodin), central nervous system depressants (e.g., Xanax, Valium), and stimulants (e.g., Concerta, Adderall) are the most commonly abused prescription drugs.
Medications available without a prescription can also be abused. Dextromethorphan (DXM), the active cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cough and cold medications, is one example. It is sometimes abused to get high, which requires taking large and potentially dangerous doses (more than what is on the package instructions).
Q. What can I do if I have questions about my prescription pain medications?
A. First, call your healthcare provider. If you are unable to reach him/her, your pharmacist may be able to answer questions. Another resource would be the Oklahoma Poison Control Center, which can be reached at 1-800-222-1222. If it is an emergency, dial “911”.
Q. How can I know if the combination of pills I am taking will have a bad interaction?
A. The Poison Control Center is available 24/7 to answer any questions you might have about medication interactions. Please call 1-800-222-1222. Also, several “drug interaction checkers” are available online. If you have any questions about how to interpret the results, ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.
Q. When should I, or someone I know, seek treatment for addiction?
A. Substance abuse, including prescription pain medication abuse or misuse, can be overwhelming, but can be treated. Two of the most important steps toward getting treatment are:
- Knowing the WARNING SIGNS of someone who may be misusing/abusing or addicted to prescription pain medications.
- In any emergency, dial “911” or contact your local first responder emergency number.
- For assistance in locating treatment services throughout Oklahoma, call “211.” You may also talk to your primary care physician, local behavioral health practitioners, hospital, clergy, or talk to family and friends. Tell someone, and utilize local resources to help find available treatment services that work.
Q. Does treatment work?
A. Yes. Treatment does work, and the earlier individual accesses appropriate care, the better the outcome. Like people with diabetes or heart disease, people in treatment for drug addiction will need to change behavior to adopt a more healthful lifestyle. Talk to local behavioral health practitioners to learn more.
Q. What are the signs of abuse/misuse of prescription pain medications?
A. The following are some of the warning signs of prescription pain medication abuse/misuse.
- Experimenting with medications recreationally
- Sharing prescriptions with others
- Taking more than prescribed to try to control pain
- Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol, street drugs, or other prescription medications.
Q. What are the signs of addiction to prescription pain medications?
A. The following are the signs and symptoms of prescription pain medication addiction.
The 4 Cs of Addiction are:
- Impaired Control over drug use
- Compulsive use
- Continued use despite physical, mental, or social harm
Symptoms of Prescription Pain Medication Addiction:
- Social withdrawal
- Increased use of the medication
- Changes in personality, mood, or everyday behaviors
- Neglecting daily responsibilities
- Increased sensitivity to lights, sounds and emotions
- Visiting multiple doctors for the same problem
Q. When should I seek medical help?
A. Seek emergency assistance immediately if a person demonstrates any of the following signs while taking prescription pain medication:
- Won’t awaken when aroused
- Bluish purple skin tones for lighter skinned people and grayish or ashen tones for darker skinned people
- Slow, shallow, erratic, or absent breathing
- Snore-like gurgling or choking sounds
- Elevated body temperature
- Irrational behavior or confusion