Raiding the Medicine Cabinet
“I STARTED taking prescription drugs when I was 14 years old,” said a woman named Lena. * “I felt that I had to be thin and attractive, so our family doctor prescribed diet pills for me. The only time I felt good was when it seemed that boys admired me. Eventually, I moved on to hard drugs and the immoral lifestyle that went with them. I was always trying to reach the ultimate high.”
A woman named Myra suffered from migraine headaches, so her doctor prescribed a pain reliever. In time, she began taking more and more pills—not just for headaches but also to satisfy her growing addiction. Moreover, she began taking pills prescribed for other members of her family.
Yes, reports indicate that a growing number of youths and a surprising number of older people are misusing prescription drugs in an effort to calm down, cope with anxiety, stay alert, lose weight, or experience a high. Some of the most frequently abused drugs are those found in many homes: pain relievers, sedatives, stimulants, and tranquilizers. * Abused products also include such over-the-counter drugs as sleeping aids, decongestants, and allergy pills.
The problem is both widespread and growing. In parts of Africa, Europe, and South Asia, for example, the abuse of prescription drugs is overtaking that of street drugs. In the United States, prescription-drug abuse exceeds that of virtually all illicit products except cannabis. According to a recent newspaper report, more 12- to 17-year-olds “abuse prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines combined.” Indeed, the demand is so high that it has given rise to a counterfeit-prescription-drug industry.
How can you protect yourself and your children from the abuse of drugs—prescription or illicit? The following articles examine these questions.
^ par. 2 Names in this series have been changed.
^ par. 4 Many of the principles discussed in these articles also apply to the use of illicit drugs and to the abuse of alcohol.
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“Drug addiction is characterized by compulsive use, use for non-medical purposes, and continued use despite harm or risk of harm,” says the Physicians’ Desk Reference. Addiction is characterized by a lack of control and an obsession with the drug.
Physical dependence is evident when patients develop withdrawal symptoms when they stop taking a certain prescribed drug, such as an opioid. This is a normal reaction and is not the same as addiction.
Tolerance refers to the need for an increased dosage in order to obtain the same degree of pain relief.