Life is Complicated Enough: Why Add Prescription Drugs to the Mix?

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Anna in NYC getting ready to eat a full meal.

As a public health analyst at NIDA, one of my jobs is to look at data and help get information out to the public. When I heard that about 1 in 10 high school seniors had used the pain medicine Vicodin last year without a prescription, I knew there was a problem. Many people, and not just teens, think that because doctors are the ones who typically prescribe these drugs, they are safe for anyone to use. That’s not true.

So, why would someone take a prescription drug that wasn’t theirs? Research shows there are many reasons.

While a number of young people take prescription drugs to get high, many teens, especially girls, take them to help them concentrate when studying or to deal with physical pain. Even this type of use is considered “abuse” and is illegal since the drug was not prescribed for that person.

Not only is it illegal but it might end up affecting your health. Even if you follow the directions on the label, those instructions were written for someone else. For example, different body weights require different dosages for many medicines.

You might be saying, “Well, my friend took a prescription drug that wasn’t hers and she was ok.   What’s the big deal?” Maybe for your friend, or even you, it was fine that time-but that may not be the case the next time. Some people aren’t so lucky (like Heath Ledger). Different drugs have different effects. For example, abusing stimulants could cause your blood pressure to become dangerously high or lead to an irregular heartbeat. Or if opioids are taken with alcohol or antihistamines, they can cause you to stop breathing.

Writing this reminded me of a story I heard about an acquaintance who decided to try OxyContin at a party. She had been drinking when she took the pill and didn’t know that OxyContin mixed with alcohol can have some pretty nasty effects. She became disoriented, got separated from her friends, and passed out. Fortunately, her friends found her and she recovered.  She decided never again to take that kind of risk, but it’s too bad she had to go through such a scary ordeal before making that choice.

When you’re faced with the option to use a prescription drug that’s not yours, pause and ask yourself… Is this something I really want to add to the mix? Do I want to take the chance of putting myself and my friends through what could happen? If you’re reading this, you’ve shown that you care about yourself and your future.   Show you care the next time you face a tough choice about whether or not to pop a pill that’s not yours.

Bio: Anna is a public health analyst with NIDA. She spends a lot of time looking at numbers and answering questions about drug abuse statistics. When she’s not doing that she’s usually at the gym, finding new restaurants, or spending time with her family.

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