The Prescription Drug Epidemic in the United States

May 14th, 2019

Over the past few decades, doctors have prescribed opiates, stimulants, and depressants to patients who need help with pain relief for various conditions. However, these drugs are extremely addictive and can lead to misuse and abuse easily – in fact, prescription drug abuse is growing every single year. Here is what you need to know about the prescription drug epidemic in the United States and its wide-ranging impact.

Different Types of Prescription Drugs

The misuse and abuse of prescription drugs can come in a variety of ways. A person could take a medication in a way other than what the doctor prescribed, they could take someone else’s prescription, or they can simply take the medication to feel the euphoria associated with it. Three classes of prescription drug medications experience the highest rates of addiction and misuse:

  • Opioids: Doctors prescribe these drugs to treat pain and they can contain oxycodone or hydrocodone. Common brands of prescription opioids include Oxycontin, Percocet, and Norco.
  • Central nervous system depressants: Doctors prescribe these drugs to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, and they usually come in the form of sedatives and hypnotics. Common brands of central nervous system depressants include Xanax, Valium, and Ambien.
  • Stimulants: Doctors prescribe these drugs to treat some sleep disorders and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Common brands of prescription stimulants include Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and Dexedrine.

Statistics About Prescription Drug Addiction

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs is a serious health problem in the United States and is unfortunately growing. Approximately 18 million people misused prescription drugs at least once during 2017, and an estimated 2 million Americans misused pain relievers for the first time in 2017. In addition, more than one million Americans misused stimulants and 271,000 misused sedatives for the first time that same year. 

In particular, the misuse of prescription drugs is the highest among young adults. Approximately 14.4% of young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 reported using prescription drugs for a non-medical reason in 2017. Children between the ages of 12 and 17 reported rates of misuse of 4.9%. 

Prescription drug abuse is also a high risk among older adults between the ages of 57 and 85, as more than 80% of these adults use at least one prescription medication every day. Because of the high rates of medication among this population, it can be very easy to slip into misuse and not realize the consequences.

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

The abuse of different prescription drugs leads to different physical symptoms, but the behavioral signs are very similar. People who are suffering from prescription opioid addiction, for example, may experience the following physical symptoms:

  • An increasingly high tolerance to pain relief medications
  • Slowed breathing rates
  • Constipation and nausea
  • Poor coordination
  • Worsening or increased sensitivity to pain
  • Confusion

In contrast, people who are suffering from an addiction to central nervous system depressants may experience the following physical symptoms:

  • Confusion and dizziness
  • Problems with memory
  • Drowsiness
  • Poor concentration
  • Slowed breathing
  • Slurred speech
  • Unsteady walking

 In addition, stimulants will show the following physical symptoms in people who are struggling with addiction:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Anxiety and paranoia
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased alertness
  • High body temperature
  • Reduced appetite

Prescription drug addiction may differ in physical symptoms, but the emotional and behavioral impacts of drug addiction remain the same across the board. If someone is seeking prescriptions from the same medication from more than one doctor, they may be struggling with an addiction. Another red flag is someone who consistently asks for early refills or loses their prescriptions to obtain more drugs. Stealing, selling, or forging prescriptions are another telltale sign of prescription drug addiction.

Loved ones and people close to the person who may be suffering from addiction will notice behavioral changes as well. A person may exhibit excessive mood swings, irritability, and make poor decisions. They may appear to be high, sedated, or unusually energetic. If someone sleeps more or less than usual, he or she may be suffering from a prescription drug addiction 

The Dangers of Prescription Drug Addiction

When someone misuses prescription drugs, they activate the brain’s reward center and they can develop a physical dependence on the drug. They became more tolerant to higher doses and have to use more and more of the drug to receive the same high. If they stop using the drug, they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures, nausea and vomiting, and chronic pain.

Addiction causes people to engage in risky behaviors that they would not normally participate in due to reduced judgement. It can lead to involvement in motor vehicle accidents and even crimes, as well as branching out to recreational and illegal drugs. Their relationships may suffer, as well as their school or work performance.

Help is available for prescription drug addiction. Because of the severe dangers of these drugs’ misuse, people who abuse prescription medications can suffer from overdoses and health complications. Physical dependence can make it very difficult for someone to safely and permanently detox and recover from prescription drug addiction alone. If you or a loved one suffers from prescription drug addiction, visit a professional treatment center as soon as possible.

Overdose and Health Complications From Prescription Drug Abuse

The abuse of prescription drugs can lead to serious complications in addition to addiction. When taken in high doses or in combination with other medications, recreational drugs, or alcohol, a person can overdose and die because of prescription drug abuse. Opioids can reduce blood pressure and breathing rates, leading to a coma or death. 

Central nervous system depressants can lead to lasting memory problems, low blood pressure, and slowed breathing, causing death and coma. Withdrawing from depressants can lead to seizures. Stimulants can cause heart problems over time, as well as high blood pressure and body temperature. Addiction to stimulants can lead to hallucinations, seizures, and paranoia.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that over 70,000 Americans died because of drug overdoses in 2017. The number of overdose deaths has rapidly increased over the past decade – in 2007, 36,010 people died from overdoses. 17,029 people died from prescription opioid overdoses in 2017 alone.

Seek Treatment at Windmill Wellness Ranch Today

Prescription drug addiction is a rampant problem within the United States. If you are one of the millions who suffer from this addiction, seek treatment at Windmill Wellness Ranch today. Our holistic treatment programs provide comprehensive therapies, detox, and recreational activities to help you overcome your opiate, depressant, or stimulant addiction. 

Our beautiful facility in Canyon Lake, Texas is dog-friendly and provides clean residential treatment for the benefit of your healing. Contact Windmill Wellness Ranch today to learn more about our programming and how to enroll.