Over the counter and Prescription Drugs
Did you know even legal drugs can be abused? Even though drugs sold in pharmacies (over the counter drugs) or prescribed by doctors are legal and for the most part safe when used correctly, ALL drugs can be abused. This happens when the drugs are used for something other than what they were intended for – for example, to get high. Some drugs commonly used in this way may be strong painkillers, or even cough syrup or allergy medication! Using any kind of drug for this purpose is illegal, just like street drugs.
Normal use of these drugs results in a positive ‘therapeutic outcome’ for the person taking them, for example, if you get your wisdom teeth removed, or break your leg, you might get prescribed some strong painkillers to help with any pain. If you have allergies, you might take allergy pills to stop the symptoms from bothering you.
Abuse of legal drugs occurs when the person taking them is not using them for the therapeutic benefit. Recently, there has been a rise in people abusing over-the-counter or prescription drugs. Because these drugs are legal and often recommended by doctors themselves, sometimes people think that they are safer to use!
People may take them in a different way than is recommended – for example, if it is a pill, they may crush it and inhale the powder through their nose, where it is absorbed through sensitive membranes. They might even smoke or inject medications. These ways of taking the drug may be harmful in themselves. For example, inhaling crushed powder through nasal passages (“snorting”) may be harmful to the sensitive membranes there, and could even start to erode the structures in your nose. Injection is never safe when done by someone who is not trained, and could lead to serious problems – for example, accidental injection of an air bubble, or HIV may be transmitted between shared needles. When abusers of prescription or over the counter drugs take them, they are generally not keeping to the correct dosage, or considering what other drugs they are taking. Drugs may interact with other substances in your body, and it can be easy to overdose when using legal drugs in an illegal way. They can interact with all kinds of things in your body, including other drugs, alcohol, or even food or herbal supplements! For example, some drugs can interact with birth control pills and make them ineffective. Abusers will also generally increase the dosage they take as well as the frequency with which they take it, which can be dangerous.
This is why you can only get some drugs with a prescription – they can be dangerous if they are not taken as recommended, and most often abusers of the drugs are unaware of side effects and how they interact with other substances. The reason some drugs require prescriptions is because they are powerful substances, and patients need to take them under a doctor’s care to keep them safe!
These drugs can be just as dangerous – and illegal! – as street drugs, even though they can be purchased and taken legally in some circumstances. They can become addictive, and have unpleasant side effects, harming the user. Depending on the drug, side effects can include (but are not limited to) drowsiness (especially if combined with alcohol!), sweating, vision problems, vomiting, constipation, psychosis, finger and toe numbness, diarrhea, depression, seizures, blood pressure or heart rate changes, and slowed or irregular breathing. It is even possible for breathing to slow so much that it is harmful to the user. Because of the possibility of vomiting, if someone falls asleep or passes out, they may choke on their own vomit.
In the long term, abuse of some drugs can lead to heart problems, even heart attacks or strokes. Many drugs will cause liver damage after prolonged and unregulated use. If a doctor is monitoring the use of the drugs, and they are taken as they should be, these types of damage are likely to be prevented before they occur. Many prescription drugs have a very high chance of severe withdrawal symptoms of the use attempts to stop using them on their own, including vomiting, insomnia, panic and anxiety, diarrhea, muscle spasms and seizures, and muscle and bone pain.
Just because these drugs CAN be obtained legally, it doesn’t mean that they are safer than street drugs when they are used incorrectly, or that it is always legal to use them. Sharing a prescription with someone else is also illegal – that means that if you have some painkillers left over from when you broke your wrist, sharing them with a friend who has a bad headache is against the law! The only safe and legal way to use prescription or over the counter drugs is as prescribed by the doctor, or as directed on the packaging.
Signs that someone may be abusing over the counter or prescription drugs can include complaining about vague ‘symptoms’ to get more of the drug, not wanting to pursue other treatments or ‘get better’, mood swings, seeing many different doctors or pharmacies (so they don’t raise suspicion), marks or rashes from injections on their arms (or sleeves that cover these marks), irregular anxiety, a change in appearance or decrease in hygiene, using more than recommended of a type of medication, using others prescriptions, sudden depression, irregular sleeping patterns (either too much or not enough), loss of interest in things the previously enjoyed, or in relationships with friends and family, and withdrawal symptoms if they try to stop taking the medication.
Does anyone you know use or think about abusing over-the-counter or prescription drugs? What do you think after reading the article?
Here is a list of resources that you can use if you think that either you or someone you know may have a problem with drugs or alcohol:
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