Blog | Prescription Drug Abuse Deadlier Than Cocaine and Heroin Combined

More than half (56%) of all Americans say they or someone they know has abused prescription painkillers, according to a poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Nearly 1 in 5 (16%) say they knew someone who died from abusing the drugs — 9% described the person as a family member or close friend.

Many people are surprised to learn that overdoses involving painkillers take the lives of more Americans than cocaine and heroin combined. According to The Clinton Foundation’s research, in the last 20 years the use of prescription stimulants increased from 5 million to 45 million. Even more alarming, the spending on prescription drug has increased a whopping $200 billion in just two decades.

The term “prescription drug” covers a wide array of substances, from tranquilizers to stimulants such as Adderall and painkillers like oxycodone. “Prescription” is the key word here. Doctors prescribe them to their patients with a recommended frequency for a set length of time.

But, most abusers aren’t getting their drugs from their doctor. More than 70% get the pills from a friend or relative, according to the National Institutes of Health. And here’s an eye-opener: More than 60% of teenage drug abusers rate “easy to get from parent’s medicine cabinet” as the most common reason for abusing drugs.

It’s clear that a critical step in tackling the problem of prescription drug abuse is to raise awareness that the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs can be as dangerous — or even more dangerous — as the use of illegal drugs. Parents need to learn to lock their medicine cabinets. And healthcare providers need to take caution not to over-prescribe the medication necessary to treat minor conditions — which will reduce the amount of unused medication sitting in medicine cabinets in American households.

We also need to educate parents and prescribers on warning signs of prescription drug abuse. Even brief interventions by primary care doctors have proven effective in reducing or eliminating substance abuse in people who abuse drugs but are not yet addicted to them.

There are a variety of signs and symptoms that may indicate abuse of prescription medications. While the actual symptoms will depend upon the type of drug used, some symptoms that are common to all abused substances include:

  • Mood swings
  • Irritability and hostility
  • Anger or angry outbursts
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Poor judgment
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • “Doctor shopping”
  • Frequent trips to the ER with various somatic complaints
  • Inconsistent answers to questions posed by physicians and family members about prescription usage

If you suspect addiction, reach out for help. The trained clinicians at Meta House will work with you to assess the situation and give your friend or loved one the help they need to take the first step in battling their addiction.