With reports of increased prescription drug overdoses in emergency departments, the nation's emergency physicians are issuing a strong warning to parents about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs, which are now the second most abused drugs, after marijuana. Hospital visits caused by accidental and unintentional prescription drug overdoses went up 37 percent between 1999 and 2006, according to new data released by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
"Often when you hear that someone has overdosed on drugs you think of illegal substances, such as cocaine or heroin," said Dr. Angela Gardner, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians. "But parents need to know that many young people are taking prescription drugs from the medicine cabinets. Many of the kids wrongly believe the drugs are not addictive, and they don't realize they can be lethal."
Nearly three-quarters of a million people (741,425) needed emergency care in 2006 because of prescription drug abuse. The types of prescription drugs most commonly abused are painkillers, such as OxyContin and Vicodin. Also, central nervous system depressants (or barbiturates), such as Valium and Xanax, are common. Twelve- to 14-year old girls are more likely than boys to have abused prescription drugs and to have higher rates of dependence.
Dr. Gardner said prescription drugs are only safe for the person they are prescribed for, and that is only if the patient takes them according to directions.
Abuse of prescription drugs can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Some depress breathing or slow down brain function. Some, if combined with other medications that cause drowsiness or with alcohol, can dangerously slow down heart rate and breathing. Stimulants, such as amphetamines, can cause anxiety, paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, irregular heartbeat or seizures.
Steps you can take to help avoid prescription drug abuse: