Take Only When Prescribed: Prescription Drug Risks and Effects

Updated: Mar 1

WHAT ARE PRESCRIPTION DRUGS?


Prescription Drugs are usually strong medications that are prescribed by doctors or dentists after medical treatments.


They usually come in three types, as opioids, depressants, or stimulants.


Some examples of opioids include:

  • Happy Pills;

  • Oxycotton; and

  • Percs


Some examples of depressants include:

  • A-minus;

  • Downers; and

  • Sleeping Pills


Some examples of stimulants include:

  • Bennies;

  • Hearts; and

  • Speed


DO PRESCRIPTION DRUGS HAVE RISKS?


Back in 2017, more than 33,800 people died from an overdose of prescription drugs. Fortunately, in that same year deaths from prescription drug abuse among people ages 15 to 25 declined as well.


Though well-meaning and generally safe as prescribed, there is still room for the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs.


HOW ACCESSIBLE ARE PRESCRIPTION DRUGS?


There are a few factors that doctors consider before prescribing drugs.


Firstly, doctors take into account your personal information. Your personal information comes in the form of your weight, any other existing medical conditions, and what other medications you are already taking as well as how long you have been prescribed that medication. The latter is especially important as misusing prescription drugs may overwhelm your system and put you at risk for hazardous drug interactions that may result in seizures, coma, or in the worst case scenario, death.


Secondly, doctors consider the form and dose of the medication you may take. This is very important because prescription drugs, when misused, are occasionally taken in ways that may alter the way the drug affects the body and the brain. For example, people who misuse the drug OxyContin® end up crushing and inhaling its pills. In this scenario, a dose that should normally take up to 12 hours to work impacts the central nervous system immediately. This increases the risk for an addiction and overdose.


Lastly, doctors look into the possible side effects of the drug they may prescribe. While prescription drugs are made to treat specific illnesses or conditions, they may affect the body in other unintended ways. Some of these side effects may be uncomfortable and in very rare cases, life-threatening. Not using prescription drugs properly or in combination with other substances can exacerbate these side effects.


HOW LONG DO PRESCRIPTION DRUGS STAY IN YOUR BODY?


There are many kinds of prescription drugs and they come in many forms. That being said, the time that the drug will stay in your system depends on the drug you took.


The following are possible kinds of prescription drugs and their corresponding duration in your system:

  1. Amphetamines: Between 1-3 days in your urine; up to 90 days in hair follicles; and about 12 hours in your bloodstream

  2. Barbiturates: Between 2-4 days in your urine; up to 90 days in hair follicles; and around 1-2 days in your bloodstream

  3. Benzodiazepines: Between 3-6 weeks in your urine; up to 90 days in hair follicles; and about 2-3 days in your bloodstream


Additionally, there are certain factors that affect how long prescription drugs may stay in your body. They are as follows:


  • Your metabolism;

  • Your body mass;

  • Your level of hydration; and

  • The duration and amount of drug that you use


WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS FOR PRESCRIPTION DRUG ABUSE?


There are certain factors that influence the probability that a person misuses prescription drugs. For example, those with past or present addictions to other substances, including alcohol and tobacco are more likely to abuse prescription drugs.


The following are additional risk factors that may contribute to your propensity to abuse prescription drugs:


  • Family history of substance abuse problems;

  • Certain pre-existing psychiatric conditions;

  • Exposure to peer pressure or a social environment where there's drug use;

  • Easier access to prescription drugs, such as having prescription medications in the home medicine cabinet; and

  • Lack of knowledge about prescription drugs and their potential harm


CAN YOU OVERDOSE ON PRESCRIPTION DRUGS?


It is possible to overdose on prescription drugs especially if you’re taking it for pain. Misusing painkillers increases your tolerance to the medication and would consequently require you more and more doses of it in order to be able to experience its pain-relieving effects. When this happens, you might end up taking too much of the drug and experience an overdose.


Furthermore, taking someone else’s prescription, taking more than the prescribed dose or taking it in ways other than the prescribed such as crushing pills to snort, taking medicine without medical attention or prescription, or mixing it with other substances increases the risk of an overdose.


WHAT ARE THE SIDE EFFECTS OF PRESCRIPTION DRUG USE AND OVERDOSE?


Using various opioids like oxycodone and codeine can cause you to feel sleepy, sick to your stomach, and constipated. At higher doses, these substances can make it very difficult to breathe properly and can cause death.


Using stimulants like Adderall or Ritalin can make you experience paranoia. It may also increase your body temperature to critical levels, and cause your heart to beat too fast, overexerting itself. This is especially likely if stimulants are taken in large doses or in improper ways other than swallowing a pill.


Slurred speech, shallow breathing, sleepiness, disorientation, and lack of coordination can be caused by the use of depressants like barbiturates. People who regularly misuse depressants and then suddenly stop there may experience seizures. Depressants can also cause death at higher doses, particularly if combined with alcohol.


The following are various side effects of the misuse of prescription drugs:

  • For Opioids:

  • Constipation;

  • Nausea;

  • Feeling high (euphoria);

  • Slowed breathing rate;

  • Drowsiness;

  • Confusion;

  • Poor coordination;

  • Increased dose required for pain relief; and

  • Worsening or increased sensitivity to pain with higher doses (hyperalgesia)

  • For Depressants:

  • Drowsiness;

  • Confusion;

  • Unsteady walking;

  • Slurred speech;

  • Poor concentration;

  • Dizziness;

  • Problems with memory; and

  • Slowed breathing

  • For Stimulants:

  • Increased alertness;

  • Feeling high;

  • Irregular heartbeat;

  • High blood pressure;

  • High body temperature;

  • Reduced appetite;

  • Insomnia;

  • Agitation;

  • Anxiety; and

  • Paranoia


HOW CAN YOU AVOID A PRESCRIPTION DRUG OVERDOSE?