Prescription drugs are some of the most important advancements in science and human history. They have increased not only our average life expectancy, but also the general quality of life people can expect. Some prescriptions can be quite powerful and addictive, leading to recreational use. Approximately one in five people in the United States have used prescription drugs recreationally, and this unsupervised use can lead to criminal behavior in order to afford or disseminate prescription drugs. Furthermore, recreational use of prescription drugs can lead to emergency room visits, permanent disabilities, and even death due to overdose.

The most common types of abused prescription drugs are opioids, benzodiazepines, and stimulants. Opioids, when used as prescribed, manage pain, but when used habitually can cause a euphoric feeling. Used long enough, one can develop an addiction to this euphoric sensation. Benzodiazepines are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders, including insomnia. While opioids can cause euphoria, benzos can cause a calm, sleepy feeling. People chasing this feeling can develop a tolerance to do the drugs, meaning it will take more and more of the drug to create this feeling. Finally, stimulants are prescribed to treat depression, narcolepsy, and ADD and ADHD. They can cause heightened levels of concentration and alertness, and as people look to achieve these sensations, they can develop an addiction to stimulants.

Prescription drug abuse is increasing for a number of reasons. First, prescription drugs are widely available due to a fragmented medical system. Often, people can go to multiple doctors, have individual prescriptions written, and thereby receive multiple prescriptions for one ailment. In this way, they can feed their own addictions and/or supply the drugs desired by others. Furthermore, due to the rise in the availability of legitimately obtained prescriptions, teen drug abuse is on the rise. This is because teens can obtain drugs from doctors, but there is also an increased opportunity for them to steal drugs from their parents.

While most of the attention in the battle against prescription drug abuse focuses on the teen and adults under 65, there is an underrepresented segment of the population regarding this terrible epidemic. Seniors, adults over the age of 65, have the greatest access to prescription drugs due to the increased likelihood that they will be prescribed pills, particularly painkillers. As a matter of fact, though senior citizens only comprise 13% of the American population, it consumes 33% of prescription pills in the nation. As senior citizens undergo surgeries, suffer injuries from falls, and simply try to manage the aches and pains that come with age, they are often prescribed powerful painkillers. These opioids have strong addictive properties, and can cause serious health issues if they are abused.

So how can you tell is someone you love is abusing prescription pills? First, take a look at the prescription bottles if they are available to you. If you notice two prescriptions for the same medication, prescribed by two different doctors, the person might be engaged something called “doctor shopping.” Doctor shopping is the practice of going to multiple doctors for the same prescription, and it is a strong indicator that someone is addicted to the substance in question.

For more information on prescription drug abuse, check out these resources: