Like most states in the U.S., Texas is facing a severe problem with abuse of and addiction to prescription opioids.
What is Prescription Drug Abuse?
Prescription drugs are carefully controlled substances that are prescribed by a doctor to an individual patient for a specific condition. Taking a drug that was prescribed to someone else, in a higher dose than prescribed, or with the specific intent to get high is abuse.
Some individuals are abusing prescription drugs by altering them; for example, crushing tablets to snort or inject the powder thus amplifying the drug’s effects.
What Makes Prescription Drugs Addictive?
Many prescription drugs produce feelings of euphoria and calmness when they are taken in large doses. Although they are not intended to be taken this way, people may develop a tolerance over time and start taking larger doses to feel the effects. Additionally, when prescription drugs are taken with other addictive substances like alcohol, heroin, or methamphetamine, the pleasurable side effects are often enhanced.
Most Abused Prescription Drugs
Some prescription drugs are more likely to be abused than others. This often depends on their pleasurable effects and how easy they are to get.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), after marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are some of the most commonly abused substances in America. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that in 2017, 11.1 million people misused prescription painkillers.1 That’s a huge increase in opiate abuse compared to 2012 when just 4.9 million people in the U.S. were abusing them.
According to the NIDA, the classes of prescription drugs most commonly abused are opioid pain relievers, stimulants for treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These categories include drugs like:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Morphine (Kadian, Avinza)
What is the Cause of Prescription Drug Abuse?
Opioid medications are typically prescribed for painful conditions, including dental work and injury-related pain.2 Morphine is often used before and after surgical procedures to alleviate severe pain. Prescriptions for codeine are more commonly used for mild pain but are also given to relieve symptoms like coughing and diarrhea.
These drugs all have legitimate medical uses, but they are also being used in unintended ways and for durations longer than necessary, and they are often diverted or sold to those who do not have legal prescriptions or genuine conditions requiring these medicines.
During the “America’s Addiction to Opioids” presentation, which was given to the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control in 2016, Nora Volkow stated, “Several factors are likely to have contributed to the severity of the current prescription drug abuse problem. They include drastic increases in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed, greater social acceptability for using medications for different purposes and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies. These factors together have helped create the broad environmental availability of prescription medications in general and opioid analgesics in particular.”3
What are the Risks of Prescription Drug Abuse?
Many individuals assume that prescription drugs are safer than illegal substances, but this assumption is false. There are many risks of prescription drug abuse.
- Harmful side effects or overdose: Prescription drugs are given for a specific purpose. Nearly all drugs have side effects, and when prescribing a drug, doctors are aware of any possible effects and have considered them with regards to the overall treatment plan. When prescription drugs are taken outside of their intended purpose, the user is at risk for adverse health effects including the possibility of overdose or a reaction to another drug or alcohol.
- Addiction: Nearly all of the most commonly abused prescription drugs have the potential for addiction. The risk of addiction becomes further amplified when the drugs are taken improperly and abused.
- Abuse of other illegal substances: Additionally, abuse of prescription drugs can be a dangerous gateway to the use of illegal substances. The NIDA reports that nearly half of young people who inject heroin surveyed in three recent studies reported abusing prescription opioids before starting to use heroin.
Prescription drug abuse is serious and is on the rise in the United States. Taking drugs prescribed to someone else or taking drugs beyond their intended use is abuse and the individuals doing so face dangerous side effects and addiction.
Prescription Drug Addiction in Texas
According to the report “Substance Abuse Trends in Texas,” hydrocodone is the most prevalent prescription opioid used for nonmedical purposes in Texas. The report also indicates an increasing problem with abuse of codeine cough syrup and attributes the rise, in part, to music promoting “sippin’ syrup” and several cases of popular singers getting in trouble because of their use of “syrup.”
- In 2015, Texas providers wrote 15.9 million prescriptions and there were 617 prescription opioid-related overdose deaths in the state.4 Experts say most of the people addicted to opioids in Texas are not abusing heroin. Instead, they’re taking prescription painkillers like Oxycodone and OxyContin.5
- In 2017, about two-thirds of opioid-related exposure calls to the Texas Poison Center Network were made for commonly prescribed opioids, and of the 1,174 Texas deaths involving opioids in 2015, 517 involved opioid painkillers.6
Trends in Texas center around illicit pain clinics, pharmacies, and physicians. The most desired pharmaceuticals continued to be the three that constitute what is known as the Houston Cocktail: hydrocodone, carisoprodol (Soma), and alprazolam (Xanax). The DEA reported prescriptions from Houston pain management clinics were filled in pharmacies as far north as Oklahoma, as far east as Alabama and as far west as El Paso.
Large numbers of patients from Louisiana and other states travel to the Houston area for the purpose of prescription fraud. Pill crews recruit “patients” to fraudulently obtain multiple prescriptions from pain clinics, which are filled at local pharmacies and then given to the pill crew leader for illicit distribution. Houston area physicians were also found to be mailing prescriptions to patients in other states—primarily Louisiana and Mississippi.
Monitoring Prescription Drug Abuse and Controlling Diversion
Texas House and Senate committees continue to examine ways to limit prescription drug abuse and agree that Texas should interactively share its drug monitoring database with other states. State lawmakers also propose that doctors should be encouraged to use online databases identifying patients who “doctor shop” for medications.
Since diversion of prescription drugs is a significant abuse problem, The Texas Prescription Monitoring Program was created to monitor controlled substance prescriptions. This program provides an efficient, cost-effective tool for investigating and preventing drug diversion.7
Medical practitioners and pharmacists use the Texas Prescription Monitoring Program to do the following things:
- Verify records and inquire about patients
- Help detect possible illicit use
- Generate and disseminate information regarding prescription trends
Naloxone Available Without A Prescription for Texans
Another recent effort to combat the increase of deaths from opioid overdose involves the drug naloxone. Naloxone can be administered to someone actively overdosing on opioids and can reverse the effects of opiates almost immediately.
In 2016, advocates and public health experts convinced state lawmakers to pass a Senate bill to expand the availability of naloxone in Texas.8 In February, Walgreens announced it was rolling out a comprehensive initiative to make the life-saving drug available without a prescription at its pharmacies in 35 states and Washington, D.C.9
Addicted to Prescription Drugs? Find Prescription Drug Addiction Treatment
If you are addicted to prescription drugs, you’re not alone. There is plenty of help available for people who are suffering from the misuse of prescriptions. If you are curious about where to get help for prescription drug abuse, an addiction treatment program like Nova Recovery Center can help you achieve sustained sobriety. To learn more about our inpatient and outpatient treatment for prescription drug abuse, call us today to speak with a member of our admissions team.