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:
- Keep prescription drugs in a safe place that only you can access.
- Keep inventory of all medications, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs. This includes keeping accurate counts of your pills.
- Keep all doctors' appointments so your physicians can monitor and adjust your medications if necessary.
- Stay informed. Ask your doctors, pharmacists and other knowledgeable parties questions about the medications you are prescribed. What are the addictive qualities, the side effects, etc?
- Never increase or decrease the dose of your medication without checking with your doctor first.
- Never take a prescription drug that is not intended for you and you only.
- Unused prescription drugs should be returned to the pharmacist. Also, unless the label instructs differently, those drugs can be disposed in the trash.
Different categories of drugs (stimulants, sedatives, opioids) have different symptoms, but here are some signs that your child may be abusing prescription drugs:
- Sudden changes in mood or personality — Does your child get irritable, abusive or negative?
- Defensiveness — When trying to hide a drug dependency, an abuser can become very defensive, paranoid, and secretive. They might react to simple requests by lashing out.
- Change in daily habits and appearance — Is someone you know neglecting their hygiene for example? It's a sign of drug abuse.
- Usage increase — Is someone you know increasing their dosage? It's an indication that the amount they are used to no longer provides relief.
- Memory loss — Does your child forget events that have taken place or act clumsy?
For more information on prescription drug abuse and other health related topics, go to www.EmergencyCareForYou.org.
ACEP and MedicAlert Foundation are partnering to promote EmergencyCareforYou.org and to educate the public about medical emergencies.
American College of Emergency Physicians