Medication Sharing: The New Addiction Epidemic
October 30, 2018 - Prescription Drugs - 0 Comments
Photo by rawpixel
Prescription medication and the issue of addiction and accidental overdose caused by pill sharing was recently put under the spotlight by The Conners, also known as the modern-day reboot of the 80s and 90s sitcom Roseanne. In the reboot’s premiere episode, the former main character, Roseanne, dies an untimely death due to an opioid related heart attack, caused by her use of medications shared by a family friend. The episode take s the viewer through the family’s emotions related to Roseanne’s surprising death, and even shows Dan (Roseanne’s husband) confronting one of the people who gave her the pills that lead to her demise.
Medication Sharing- Why?
While this type of death is shocking to see on a family show, it’s becoming more and more mainstream in the United States today. The issue of opioid addiction brought on by medication sharing is especially prevalent in low-income communities, where many people lack the health insurance they need to be seen by a doctor and acquire pain medication legally. When someone who is not secure in their ability to afford health care is prescribed a medication, it makes sense that they would want to make the medication last as long as possible. Many people ration out their pain medication, taking it only when their pain becomes unbearable. This can result in them having pain medication left over, even long after their pain has dissipated. While not using all of the pain medication isn’t a problem in and of itself, what happens to the unused medication can become an issue.
Many people who find themselves with leftover medication simply keep it in their medicine cabinet, just in case they need it later. Some people may forget that the medication is there, as they haven’t needed to touch it for months. A problem arises when a loved one of the person who possesses the medication has an issue with pain, but does not have the means to get it treated. The person who possesses the pain medication offers it to the person in pain with the best of intentions- they only want to help their loved one feel better. When medications are not disposed of properly, it’s also possible for a curious teen in the house to take a pill simply to see what it’s like, never intending to become addicted. It’s also possible for someone who is addicted (such as a family friend or neighbor) to pain medication to steal leftover pills from family members.
The best thing to do with leftover pain medication is to dispose of it through an official medication disposal program. While these programs are not hard to find, it can be difficult for a person who struggles to afford medication to justify throwing away medicine that they may need at a later date. Drug prices in the United States can be extremely high, even with excellent health insurance, thanks to the business of big pharma. It’s hard to convince someone that they’re doing anything but throwing away their hard earned money when they throw away expensive medication, especially when they know they have a friend or a family member who could use the medication to deal with their ongoing pain.
What is medication sharing dangerous?
Recent studies show that in the United States, up to 52% of people have used prescription medication that was not prescribed to them at some point in their lives. 22% of people admit to sharing their medication with others. It seems innocent enough, doesn’t it? A loved one is in pain, someone has the means to help, so they want to do what they can for their friend or family member. While the person who is sharing the medication likely has the best of intentions, they could actually be putting their loved one’s life at risk by offering them addictive medication that hasn’t been prescribed to them.
Opioids and opiates have the potential to be extremely addictive. When someone is prescribed these medications, they are under the care of a physician, and they must attend regular follow up appointments to ensure that they are physically and mentally tolerating the medication well. If their doctor suspects that an addiction is forming, they will work with the patient to wean them off of the medication. When someone is taking these medications when they have not been prescribed to them, they are not under the care of a physician. This means that no one is looking out for the signs of a budding addiction. This can cause a problem to spiral out of control, with no one there to throw a wrench in the addiction once it starts spinning.
While we often think of opioids and opiates as only painkillers, drugs that work to fight anxiety and depression, such as Valium and Xanax (benzodiazepines), are in this category as well. Sometimes these drugs are used recreationally, but they are also often passed between family members. A mom who uses Valium for anxiety may have no problem giving a few to her daughter while she’s going through a divorce. A dad who uses Xanax to sleep after 60-hour workweeks may feel ok with giving one to his son to help him deal with the stress of college applications. This can be especially dangerous when the person giving the prescription medication does not warn their loved one of important guidelines, such as not mixing the medication with alcohol.
Some people feel that since they themselves did not get addicted, it’s unlikely that their friend or family member will have an issue. This could not be further from the truth. Different people react differently to the same substances. Scientists are not completely sure why some people become addicts the first time they try a drug, prescription or otherwise, and others do not. It’s likely that a combination of biological and environmental factors is at work. Bottom line: it’s impossible to tell whether or not someone will become addicted to a drug, so it’s important that prescription drugs are only used under the care of a trained physician.
It’s important to note that if a person has struggled with addiction in the past, a doctor will not be likely to prescribe them another addictive drug. Without a person’s medical records in front of them, it’s impossible for a friend or family member to know a person’s past history with addiction. This means that even though their intent is good, they could be turning someone’s life into a spiral of addiction by providing them with prescription drugs that no doctor in their right mind ever would have allowed them to consume.
Many of us have heard the term “gateway drug” in reference to marijuana, but prescription medications fit into this category as well. Many people who eventually use non-prescription drugs got their start with prescription painkillers and anxiety drugs. Over time, prescription drugs do not work as well as they did at first, requiring a larger amount to get the same pain relief. People who struggle to find enough of their usual opioids, opiates, or benzos may eventually turn to heroin or methamphetamine in order to get stronger, faster relief. While using heroin clearly can cause major health issues, it can also exacerbate mental health problems, create legal problems, and cause a person to engage in a lifestyle to which they otherwise would not be attracted. Heroin can turn someone into a person that they’re not- caring only about how they’re going to get their next fix. It’s sad to think that many heroin addicts got their start from a well-meaning friend who simply wanted to help them with their pain.
Dual-Diagnosis: A Special Concern
In the world of addiction treatment, dual diagnosis refers to patients who are struggling with addiction and a mental health issue. Many people who seek treatment for addiction are dual diagnosis patients. When someone shares their medication with a loved one, it’s unlikely that they are trained to do a psychiatric interview to assess the person’s ability to handle a potentially addictive substance. This means that the person taking the prescription medication may end up dealing with exacerbated mental health issues brought on by the addictive qualities of the prescription medication.
People who are struggling with depression, anxiety, trauma, and PTSD typically need specialized treatment in order to deal with their mental health in a way that allows them to overcome their addiction. Some people who fit the criteria for dual diagnosis treatment feel that their situation is helpless, but nothing could be further from the truth. Recovery may take a little bit longer for someone who is dealing with a mental health issue on top of his or her addiction, but it’s far from impossible.
What should I do if I think a loved one is using medication that isn’t prescribed to them?
If you think that a friend or family member may be abusing prescription medications by taking pills that haven’t been prescribed to them, don’t wait to have the conversation. Let them know that you’re on their side, and you want to get them help. Tell them that you understand how this could happen, and you’re there for them to listen and find a path to recovery, whether that means enrolling in a 12 step program or starting inpatient or outpatient rehab. One of the pillars of successful recovery is having family support, and by reaching out to your loved one, you’re helping them take the first step in the path to becoming sober again.
It’s normal that your loved one will deny that they have a problem at first, and their denial does not mean that you did something wrong. Remember, it’s not your job to convince them that they have a problem. It’s likely that, on some level, they already know. By telling them that you’re aware of what’s going on and you’re there to help, you’ve opened a pathway to let them know that there is hope for recovery.
If you’re the one who is struggling with prescription medications that weren’t originally prescribed to you, it’s important that you know that help is available. It can be scary to ask for help when you feel that a small issue has spiraled out of control. Our counselors are non judgmental and available to talk to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It’s ok if your initial phone call is simply to get information- no one is going to make you do anything you aren’t ready to do. Listen to your gut- call our counselors today. Whether you need detox in a healthcare setting, therapy, or rehab, we’ve got you covered. We’re waiting to hear from you at 1-877-345-4138. If you’d prefer, you can utilize the real time live chat feature on this website. No matter how you choose to reach out, the important thing is that you do it. The best time to get help is right now.