It seems like an innocent enough thing. Someone you know is experiencing symptoms similar to something you’ve experienced in the past, and you still have some of your old prescription medication that your doctor prescribed to you. And so you give your friend a couple pills. Or maybe the recommended dosage doesn’t seem to be quite as effective as you’d like it to be in treating your own pain. So you take a few more than the recommended dosage.
But those instructions on your prescription drug containers are there for a reason. Just because prescription medications are legal, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily safe. It’s currently estimated that over 15 million Americans abuse prescription drugs, which exceeds abuse of most other illegal drugs combined.
That high number of abusers also translates into a high number of overdose deaths. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 20,000 Americans died from a prescription drug overdose in 2013, the majority of those from opioid pain relievers. That’s more than died from heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.
The problem stems from the fact that most painkillers work in a similar way to other drugs. They offer momentary feelings of pleasure (in this case, by masking feelings of pain), but the body has a way of adapting to the presence of these substances. As a result, some feel that they need to take more than the recommended amount in order to achieve the same pain-dulling sensation that they experienced when they first started taking the pills.
As individuals begin to take more and more of the drug, they can easily develop an addiction, as well as put themselves at risk for severe side effects. Heart and liver problems, as well as breathing issues, can also arise from prescription drug abuse. And when combined with alcohol or other substances, these effects can be even more serious.
So how do you keep a prescription from turning into an addiction? Obviously the first thing to do is to make sure you’re following the instructions when a doctor prescribes you a medication. Should you find that you or someone else is misusing a prescription—either accidentally or intentionally—it is important to seek help as soon as possible.
According to Everyday Health, possible signs of an addiction include going to multiple doctors to receive prescriptions, desiring a specific medication (rather than whatever the doctor prescribes), and “running out of a prescription early.” If you spot these signs in yourself or someone else, seek help.
Rehab facilities and other resources are available to ensure that misuse of prescription drugs do not become a deadly mistake. Those instruction labels may seem like nothing more than suggestions, but sticking to those guidelines could very well save your life.