Strategies to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse
Medication has been around for centuries, and it has helped individuals get relief and treatment for their medical conditions. In the case of prescription drugs, while these products are legal, excessive or uncontrolled use may lead to prescription drug abuse. Today, we will discuss sound strategies to make sure that the worsening problem on prescription drug abuse does not get out of hand.
Abusing prescription drugs may start either through the patients themselves when they use the drug beyond its prescribed dosage, or by having access to the medicine inventory of other people who are prescribed to take them.
Initially, stronger medicines were developed to alleviate unfavorable symptoms that a patient may have. However, these drugs are taken for other purposes and that the potency of these drugs – especially if left uncontrolled – may result in very dangerous situations and even death.
Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse
Some people who are looking for recreational drug use think that prescription medication is safer to use than illicit substances. In reality, it is no safer than illicit drugs when used for recreational purposes.
These prescription drugs are highly potent substances wherein an individual may manifest certain signs and symptoms after taking them. These signs and symptoms may become unfavorable to the point that it can be highly lethal to one’s health when taken more than how it has been prescribed.
Prescription drug abuse has emerged as a top public health concern since a majority of drug overdose deaths come from the use of prescription drugs. At present, prescription drug-related deaths now outnumber those from cocaine and heroin combined, and drug overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 States and Washington, D.C.
The negative effects of prescription drug misuse are the following:
Aside from seeing the physical changes that an individual may experience, misusing prescription drugs leads to a greater possibility of incurring mental health problems. Prescription drug misuse may lead to:
- changes in mood
- decreased cognitive function
- interruptions in the menstrual cycle
- slowed breathing
It is likely to cause accidents when prescription drugs are being misused, since thinking is impaired.
One can become physically dependent on a drug and develop uncontrollable cravings for it. Typically, an individual may find himself unsatisfied with the usual dose that he is taking. In order to satisfy his cravings, the need to take frequent large doses may be needed until the desired effect is achieved.
The more substance is being taken, then more dangerous it is for the individual. And when drug use is suddenly discontinued, withdrawal symptoms are likely to occur such as sweating, nervousness, nausea, and shaking.
Similarly, unfavorable symptoms may also manifest from severe opioid abuse such as vomiting, pain, insomnia, and uncontrolled leg movement. With stimulant abuse, an individual may manifest depression, sleeping problems and feeling of exhaustion. Some sedatives and tranquilizer abuse can lead to life-threatening consequences.
Excessive use of depressants can cause memory problems that may lead to seizures. It should also be noted that using some stimulants – even for a short time – may trigger paranoia, possible increase in body temperature, abnormal heartbeat, and cardiovascular problems.
Poor Academic Performance
The brain is the primary part of the body that gets affected when a substance is abused. Thereby, an individual may have difficulty to focus on things and store new memories.
Ritalin, a drug used to treat ADHD, is supposed to help children with the condition to gain more focus. However, some students have started taking this, hoping that it can help them absorb everything that they have read a night before the examinations. In reality, though, the effect of taking Ritalin or Adderall may cause them to become sleepier in the morning.
The fact that an individual is taking medication that is not intended for him already makes it unlawful and illegal. When caught, this may cause the unauthorized user to be placed behind bars, face fines, and get suspended from work or school.
An estimated $53.4B a year is spent in lost productivity, criminal justice costs, and medical costs due to misuse and abuse of prescription drugs in the United States. Additionally, only one in ten Americans with substance abuse disorders are able to receive treatment.
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted in 2011, there has been a decrease in prescription drug abuse from 2010. It may not have significantly decreased, but the government is continuously making ways on how this can be prevented by creating various laws in individual states.
Some of the important points in the report include the following:
- ID requirement: Thirty two states are now requiring pharmacists to ask for an ID prior to dispensing a controlled substance.
- Medical Provider Education Laws: Fewer than half of the states (22) have laws that require or recommend education for doctors and other healthcare providers who issue prescriptions for pain medication.
- Rescue Drug Laws: Over one-third of the states (17 and Washington, D.C.) have a law in place to expand access to and use naloxone, a prescription drug that can be effective in counteracting an overdose.
- Support for Substance Abuse Treatment: Almost half of the states (24 and Washington, D.C.) are participating in Medicaid Expansion. This is responsible for expanding the coverage of substance abuse services and treatment.
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs: This program is used to identify “doctor shoppers,” problem prescribers and individuals in need of treatment. These programs vary in funding, use, and capabilities.
The following are the recommendations of the report based on the NSDUH results:
- Educate the public to understand the risks of prescription drug use to avoid misuse in the first place;
- Ensure responsible prescribing practices, including increasing education of healthcare providers and prescribers to better understand how medications can be misused and to identify patients in need of treatment;
- Expand access to and availability of effective treatment options as a key component of any strategy to combat prescription drug abuse.
- Improve, modernize and fully-fund Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, so they are real-time, interstate and incorporated into Electronic Health Records, to quickly identify patients in need of treatment and connect them with appropriate care and identify doctor shoppers and problem prescribers;
- Increase understanding about safe storage of medication and proper disposal of unused medications, such as through “take back” programs;
- Make rescue medications more widely available by increasing access for at-risk individuals to naloxone and provide immunity for individuals and others seeking help; and
- Make sure patients do receive the pain and other medications they need, and that patients have access to safe and effective drugs.
Using prescription opioids beyond their designed purpose is extremely dangerous since the repeated recreational use of these drugs may lead to addiction or death. Most abuse cases occur by oral administration, either by swallowing the tablet or capsule in whole, or chewing it and then swallowing. Doing the latter somehow disrupts some of the extended-release opioid formulations and releases large amounts of the drug rapidly, thereby increasing euphoria. Oral abuse, if taken frequently and at high doses, may lead to medication addiction.
Measures on How To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse
There are several ways on how to prevent prescription drug abuse to ensure that the drugs will be left for medical purposes alone:
Start from the production level
OxyContin is a drug prescribed for the treatment of chronic pain, and this brand was created by Purdue Pharma. In a recent announcement, they said that they have started relieving at least 50% of their sales force since they plan to stop promoting opioid products. This can significantly decrease the need for the use of such drug, in which doctors will have to prescribe a much safer but effective alternative drug.
This decision stemmed from how the general public is blaming the company because of the existing opioid crisis and their attempt to hopefully reduce the number of drugs in the market.
Be aware and conduct close monitoring
It is equally important that both doctors and patients are fully aware of the consequences that these prescription drugs carry. There should be a system wherein physicians can easily determine the degree of harm of prescription drugs, to be able to minimize the risk for opioid abuse in their patients. Complete monitoring of the patient’s conditions should be done, and this includes closely supervising and addressing withdrawal symptoms.
Train the doctors
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services has recommended physicians to be educated on Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment. These are guidelines for patients with substance abuse or disorder and for those at risk of abuse. Referrals to pain and addiction specialists should be recommended.
Share tips on proper drug disposal
Proper disposal of unused prescription drugs should be done. Any unused prescription drug should be either flushed down the drain or sent to drop-off centers where they can be safely disposed.
Do not self-medicate
Although someone may feel the same symptoms as another patient, the patient should never share his medication with others. When you need a medical consultation, the best thing to do is to visit the doctor.
Go to support groups
Attending support groups can benefit patients taking such medications. Understanding the extreme pain that they may be experiencing from time to time, as well as being in contact with people who have the same situation, can somehow help properly manage pain and look for other options besides prescribed medication.
Implement a prescription monitoring program
The use of prescription monitoring program is equally important. It enables you to have a list of all physicians who prescribe opioids for each patient, as well the number of pharmacists where opioids are dispensed for these patients.
This type of program has been administered on a state-by-state basis and are currently operational in 33 states. The prescription monitoring programs work by collecting information about the prescriber (physician), pharmacy, product name, concentration, dose, and the amount of medicine dispensed to a patient.
When a patient reaches the determined number of medications, action can be taken, which includes:
- Notifying all the physicians who have prescribed an opioid to the patient (this limits the number of pharmacies used by the patient to one)
- Notifying the patient of the knowledge of the suspicious activity. This may also be a means of referring the patient to the law enforcement for proper investigation.
Follow the prescription
Pharmacies should always ensure that they are dispensing the right medication to the right patient. Therefore, proper identification should be provided all the time when purchasing prescription drugs from the pharmacy.
The effectiveness of any of these strategies depends on how everyone understands the true nature of these prescription drugs. It’s also important to reiterate to patients that even if these prescription drugs were given to them to help them with their medical conditions, there should be complete understanding of the effects of the drugs. That way, their families and friends can also gain information.