Prescription drug abuse can cause an addiction many do not see coming. Prescriptions have to be prescribed by a doctor, and because of this, many people do not realize the addictive properties these drugs can elicit if they are not taken properly. Yet more people each year misuse (abuse) their prescription medications. Further, other people may gain access to someone else’s prescriptions and use them in a way not directed (drug diversion), putting themselves at risk for abuse. This abuse requires serious attention and prevention, as it may lead to addiction, numerous physical and mental health concerns, overdose, and even death.
In light of this growing issue, it is ever more important to have a prevention plan in place to fight the risk of substance abuse and addiction. Whether you have been affected by abuse, or are concerned for a loved one, there are measures you can take for prevention.
Who Can Help Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse?
Prescription drug abuse has a distinctive standing in the field of drug abuse. That is, it puts at risk many different types of people, as some prescription medications can be easily obtained through a doctor’s authorization. While in many cases, others may be significantly harder to get due to their more addictive and subsequently controlled nature, even these become diverted, resulting in dangerous patterns of abuse. This risk applies not only to those who are prescribed the medication, but to those people around them, too. That is why each person exposed to prescription drug use may play a role in preventing abuse: clinicians, patients, family members, and friends of patients.
A Doctor’s Role
As explained by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “more than 80 percent of Americans had contact with a health care professional in the past year, placing doctors in a unique position to identify nonmedical use of prescription drugs and take measures to prevent the escalation of a patient’s misuse to a substance use disorder.” In addition to asking about all existing medications a patient is taking to ensure proper prescription, doctors can also screen for misuse regularly. This may feel like a violation of privacy and integrity to some, but due to the risk associated with certain prescriptions, it may be necessary.
Doctors are also in a unique position to become aware of, and ward off another precursor to prescription drug abuse—self-medication. Many times, a person may not be using these drugs recreationally to experience a pleasureable feeling; rather, they may be using them in an attempt to moderate feelings of physical or mental discomfort or pain. A person may be trying to treat uncontrollable pain or mental health disorders on their own. By asking the right questions and fully familiarizing themselves with their patient’s medical history and current concerns, a doctor may be able to recognize these needs and potential behaviors of abuse. In doing so, they can then offer the patient medically supervised care and support, including medications, to address these concerns, thus potentially circumventing further risk of abuse.
Doctors should also be aware of signs of abuse, such as needing more prescriptions in a short time period or frequent claims of losing medications or prescription authorizations. Also, doctors should be wary of patients engaging in frequent physician swapping—seeking out different doctors to ensure guaranteed prescriptions, commonly referred to as “doctor shopping”.
Measures Of Prevention
Patients, family members, and friends may take a few steps to help avoid abuse of prescription medications. While the best defense is being cautious and knowing the risks associated with each prescription, there are other things people can do as well. These measures include:
- Be sure you are getting the correct medication for your condition. You know your body and your conditions better than anyone, and the doctor can best assign you medication if he or she knows about your symptoms, other medications, other conditions, and health history.
- Stay in touch with your doctor. Attend your regular checkups, and keep your doctor well-informed of any side effects and how the medication is working for you (or is not working), to ensure you are getting the correct dosage.
- Explicitly follow medication directions. Perhaps no other prevention method is as important as this. If your symptoms persist and your medication is not working for you, avoid risk of abuse by not trying to correct or increase your dosage on your own, without first consulting your doctor. Any changes to your dose and frequency of use should only be made through your doctor’s explicit directive and guidance.
- Understand what your medication is supposed to do. In addition to talking to your doctor at length about your symptoms and issues, before taking your medication, talk to the pharmacist to make sure you know what this prescription is supposed to be doing. It is also a good idea to learn what other sorts of medications or substances (including over-the-counter supplements and even foods) you should not take while on each medication, as some of these things may cause an interaction or change the way the medication is metabolized and functions.
- Do not take someone else’s prescription medication. This is also important, as a vast amount of prescription drug abuse begins this way. Even if a person close to you has the same condition as you, what is right for him or her in a medication may not be right for you.
- Avoid ordering online prescriptions. Certain websites may sell fake prescriptions, which could contain harmful substances, so it is best to steer away from this risk.
- Keep your medications in a safe, private place. Many times, people abuse prescriptions of those close to them. Store your medications in a locked cabinet and keep track of how many doses you should have at a given time.
- When finished with a prescription, properly dispose of it. This may not mean flushing it or throwing it away. To be sure you are getting rid of medications in a safe manner, speak to your pharmacist or even local law enforcement for suggestions.
Raising Awareness Of Prescription Drug Abuse And Prevention
On a larger scale, local communities and employers can also play a role in prevention. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a number of ways for communities to get involved in the prevention of prescription drug abuse. These include adopting strategies such as the 2014 National Drug Control Strategy or engaging in the Drug Free Communities Support Program. National Prevention Week is an effort developed by SAMHSA in 2014 to raise awareness of, and promote action for mental disorders and/or substance abuse.
One of the best ways to help avoid substance abuse is raising awareness and, especially, starting conversations. In particular, teens are in need of a greater awareness on this issue. According to NIDA, after alcohol and marijuana, prescription drugs are the substances most commonly abused by teens age 14 and older. Many of these teens get these drugs from friends or family members who are unaware of this diversion and abuse.
If this has happened to you and you are concerned your teen may be at risk, start a conversation about the dangers of substance abuse. Begin the conversation in an environment with low stress levels, and make sure you have plenty of time to discuss the issue. Help teens to understand the risk of prolonged substance abuse and the fact that many people who first abuse prescription opioids then seek out stronger, illegal opioids, such as heroin. Discuss the warning signs of prescription drug abuse, so teens will be able to recognize them.
Learn More About Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention
Prescription drug abuse is a problem which plagues our nation daily, but it is one we can work to prevent. If you or someone you know is displaying signs of abuse, or if you want to learn more about prevention methods, you can be connected to resources today. Contact us at DrugRehab.org to speak to someone who will listen to your concerns and guide you to the information you need.
Mayo Clinic—Prescription Drug Abuse: Prevention
National Institute On Drug Abuse—Misuse Of Prescription Drugs
Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Administration—Efforts To Fight Prescription Drug Misuse And Abuse