Prescription Drug Abuse

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Physicians prescribe psychoactive prescription drugs (drugs that affect mood or behavior) to help people with pain, anxiety, insomnia, depression and a number of other conditions. Many of these drugs have the potential for addiction. Prescription drugs are only safe for the individuals who actually have prescriptions for them. Because most people take medicine responsibly, addiction or compulsive drug-seeking is uncommon among people who use drugs as prescribed. The risk for addiction exists when drugs are used in ways other than as prescribed.

Some people use prescription drugs for recreation or amusement. Using prescription drugs for reasons other than those prescribed by a physician, is drug abuse. Prescription drugs are abused as a means to get high, calm down, get a lift or build muscle mass.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs fall into these categories:

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Opioids are either extracts from the opium poppy, or synthetics with similar properties to opium derivatives. They are the most commonly abused prescription drugs. Opioids are prescribed because of their pain relieving, properties. They can also produce drowsiness, cause constipation, and depress breathing. Taken exactly as prescribed, opioids can be used to manage pain effectively.

Because Opioids can affect parts of the brain that produce a feeling of euphoria, the potential for addiction is high. Taking Opioids in combination with other drugs, or as one large single dose, can cause severe respiratory depression or death. Some of the most commonly abused opioids are codeine, OxyContin (oxycodone), Vicodin (hydrocodone), Dilaudid (Hydromorphone), and Demerol (meperidine).

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Central Nervous System Depressants

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants slow down normal brain function resulting in drowsiness, sluggishness, sedation and sleep. Alcohol is the most familiar and most widely abused depressant. The most commonly abused prescription CNS depressants are those in the benzodiazepine class of drugs, Valium (diazepam), Xanax (alprazolam) and Halcion (triazolam) The date rape drug Rohypnol (flunitrazepam) is also in this class of drug, but it is not approved for use in the United States. Long-term use CNS depressants can lead to dependence and addiction. Withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be particularly uncomfortable and lengthy.

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CNS depressants should not be combined with any medication or substance that causes drowsiness, including other prescription depressants, opioids or alcohol. When depressants are taken together there is an enhancement of the action of one drug by the presence of a second. The resulting intensity of the two depressants can slow the heart and respiration to the point of death.

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Central Nervous System Stimulants

Central nervous system stimulants enhance brain activity. They elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. Very high doses can lead to irregular heartbeat and high body temperature. There is also the potential for cardiovascular failure (heart attack) or lethal seizures.

Prescription stimulants were used to treat asthma, obesity, neurological disorders, and other health problems before it became apparent that they had high potential for abuse and addiction. Now they are limited to treating narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and short-term treatment of obesity. Examples include Ritalin and Concerta (methylphenidate) and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine). As it is with Methamphetamine, use of CNS Stimulants can lead to dependence and addiction.

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Anabolic Steriods

Anabolic Steriods are prescribed to treat conditions that occur when the body produces abnormally low amounts of testosterone. They are sometimes prescribed for persons with osteoporosis (loss of bone tissue), certain types of anemia, and to treat body wasting in patients with AIDS and other diseases. Because these drugs produce increases in lean muscle mass and strength, they are popular with athletes and body builders. Anabolic steroids that are commercially available in the U.S. include Halotestin (fluxoymesterone), Oxandrin (oxandrolone) and Winstrol (stanozolol).

Anabolic steroid abuse can result in irritability, manic episodes, uncontrolled aggression and violent behavior called "roid rage." They can cause men to develop enlarged breasts, shrinking of the testicles, and reduced sperm count. Women may grow facial hair and experience irregularity or termination of menstrual cycles. Both sexes can develop acne and hair loss. Addiction becomes evident when anabolic steroids are taken even after abusers experience the negative effects in their bodies, minds and interpersonal relationships. Some of the depression associated with anabolic steroid withdrawal may last over a year after the abuser stops taking the drugs.