With the drug epidemic gripping our nation, the focus on its causes has never been sharper. Prescription drugs and how they are prescribed has become a hot topic, particularly questions like why do doctors prescribe potentially addictive drugs to their patients?
Previously, we covered 10 of the most addictive prescription drugs and what makes them so dangerous. You might wonder why doctors recommend and prescribe these potentially addictive drugs. Would it not be better to avoid prescribing them in the first place?
A Closer Look at Potentially Addictive Drugs
Addiction is a disease that affects the brain and body. It can develop in a person who never uses an illicit drug. For many, addiction stems from habitual use (or misuse) of a prescription drug.
Prescription drugs classified as opioids, stimulants, and tranquilizers are considered the most dangerous in terms of addiction. However, any drug can be addictive. In fact, any thing that causes a high of good feelings is potentially addictive. We covered this phenomenon in Society’s Addiction to Addiction.
The fact is, a potentially addictive drug to one person does not carry the same risk to another person. If we were to task doctors with prescribing only drugs void of addiction risks, we would remove prescription drugs almost entirely. Even over-the-counter medications like Tylenol can be addictive if misused or abused.
So, since almost any prescription has the potential to cause a substance use issue, how do we prevent the misuse of potentially addictive drugs?
How Doctors Help
According to DrugAbuse.gov, over 80% of Americans had contact with a healthcare professional in the past year. Medical professionals, like doctors, are in a unique position to help limit, spot, and prevent prescription drug misuse.
When a prescription drug is used for nonmedical reasons, it is called drug misuse or abuse. Habitually misusing a prescription drug – particularly an opioid, stimulant, or tranquilizer – can lead to an addiction problem.
Medical professionals can remain alert to the following signs of a potential drug abuse or addiction problem:
- A sudden increase in the number of prescriptions a patient takes
- Rapid, frequent, or unscheduled prescription refill requests
- “Doctor shopping” or moving from one provider to another to obtain multiple prescriptions
North Carolina has a state-wide substance control network doctors use to monitor the use of controlled prescription substances. The network helps them spot drug misuse problems and address them.
How Pharmacists Help
Much like doctors, pharmacists have access to the controlled prescription substance monitoring network. They provide a second layer of defense, which is especially useful when an addict doctor shops or falsifies prescriptions for the drug(s) of their choice.
Pharmacists can also help by ensuring patients understand how to take the prescriptions they provide. A pharmacist is one of the most accessible professionals in your community. They can help you understand the do’s and don’ts of any prescription medication. You can always consult them regarding:
- How to properly use a prescription drug
- What to avoid when using a prescription drug
- How to dispose of an unused prescription drug
You can also consult them if you believe you may be experiencing a mild medication side effect but are unsure.
How Patients Help
As a patient, you can prevent prescription medication abuse and reduce your risk of developing a substance use disorder. The simplest way to do so is by following the directions provided by your doctor, pharmacist, and those found on the prescription medication label. In addition:
- Never take a prescription drug with alcohol
- Be aware of how the drug could interact with alcohol or other drugs
- Never stop or change the dose of a drug without your doctor’s approval
- Do not share your prescription with someone else
- Never use another person’s prescriptions
- Dispose of unused or discontinued prescription drugs properly
- Properly store high-risk prescription drugs, like opioids, stimulants, and tranquilizers
- Never sell, distribute, or “deal in” prescription drugs
If you worry you might be (or become) addicted to a medication, talk to your doctor.
Know the Risks
If your doctor recommends a medication that is potentially addictive or carries a history of addiction, ask them how to best manage your medication. It’s important to know your personal risk factors, which include:
- Family History: Does mental illness run in your family? Is addiction present in your family history?
- Your History: Have you ever had a substance use issue? Have you ever had any problems with alcohol or drug use? Do you struggle with mental illness whether treated or untreated?
- Current Circumstances: Are you dealing with stressful life circumstances? Do you avoid socializing and prefer to isolate?
The best way to avoid a substance use issue is to be open and honest with your medical professional. Always ask if there are less addictive options available and be prompt to check-in with your doctor regularly.