Misuse of prescription drugs means
taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed;
taking someone else’s prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain;
or taking a medication to feel euphoria (i.e., to get high).
Everyday thousands of teenagers use prescription drugs to get high for the first time. Prescription drug abuse is STILL DRUG ABUSE.
Although prescribed originally by a medical doctor, the abuse of prescription drugs has escalated into an epidemic. People somehow believe prescription drugs are harmless and not as bad as other illegal drugs, like cocaine or heroin. Due to their potential for abuse and addiction, many prescription drugs have been categorized in the same category as opium or cocaine. These include Ritalin and Dexedrine (stimulants), and the painkillers OxyContin, Demerol and Roxanol.
The persons that are mostly abusing prescription drugs are woman, elderly people and teenagers. Painkillers, sleeping tablets and anti-anxiety drugs are the drugs most abused.
Medicine schedules are there to keep us safe and protect us from things like accidentally becoming addicted to codeine. A medicine schedule is a number given to pharmaceutical products based on their benefits and risks — in a nutshell, the lower the risk, the lower the medicine schedule.
There are three main types of medicine schedules
Unscheduled medicines have a schedule of 0 (S0 medicines).
You can buy them on the shelves at places like pharmacies, supermarkets, health shops or service stations.
Things like aspirin, vitamins and even some topical creams are considered schedule 0 medicines.
It’s all in the name really; over-the-counter medicines (or OTC medicines) are medicines that can be given to you over the counter without a prescription.
Over-the-counter medicines have a schedule of 1 or a schedule of 2 (S1 and S2 medicines).
Although you don’t need a prescription for schedule 1 and 2 medicines, you can only buy them from a pharmacy and they must be given to you by a pharmacist.
In South Africa, pharmacists are required by law to write down your name and the name and quantity of the medicine whenever you buy a schedule 1 or 2 medicine.
Things like cold and flu remedies, antihistamines and anti-inflammatories are considered schedule 1 and 2 medicines.
The reason why these medicines are behind the counter is that you should be consulting the pharmacist about the best treatment for your condition based on things like other medication you might be on, your weight and age and other complicating factors. Pharmacists are trained to help, so use them!
In South Africa, any medicine classified as schedule 3 – 8 is a prescription medicine.
To get prescription medicine, you need a prescription from a doctor, dentist or allied health professional, which you then take to a pharmacy to be filled. The pharmacist should explain how to take the medicine — ask as many questions as you like and only leave when you’re sure you understand how to take the medicine.
By law, you can only get a 6-month repeat prescription for schedule 3 and schedule 4 medicines.
Medicine with a high scheduling status (usually schedule 5 and above) is treated differently because of its habit-forming nature and potentially harmful side effects — pharmacists keep a record of all sales and repeat prescriptions are limited or not given, and need to be renewed.
Schedule 4: Anti-infectives for example antibiotics & anti-retro-virals / Prescription only, available from the pharmacy dispensary, prescription can be renewed for 6 months.
Schedule 5: Psycho-active medicines like sedatives & anti-depressants / Prescription only, available from the pharmacy dispensary, repeats stipulated.
Schedule 6: Narcotic painkillers/ Prescription only, available from the pharmacy dispensary.
Schedule 7: Drugs like cannabis & heroin / Controlled substances
Schedule 8: Amphetamine, dexamphetamine & Nabilone / Strictly controlled substances
Classification of prescription medicines that are abused
Short-term effects of opioids and morphine derivatives include:
- Slowed breathing
Long term effects
Continued use or abuse of opioids can result in physical dependence and addiction. The body adapts to the presence of the drug and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped. These include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhoea, vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps (“cold turkey”). Tolerance can also occur, meaning that long-term users must increase their doses to achieve the same high.
Major tranquillizers: Haldol, Thorazine, Prolixin, Etrafon, Compazine
Minor tranquillizers: Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, Ativan
Depressants: short-term effects
- Slow brain function
- Slowed pulse and breathing
- Lowered blood pressure
- Poor concentration
- Slurred speech
- Visual disturbances
- Dilated pupils
- Disorientation, lack of coordination
- Difficulty or inability to urinate
Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. It causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the addicted person as well as the people around that person. The abuse of drugs — even prescription drugs — leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain.
It is often one of the most difficult dependencies to recognize or diagnose. Although the medicine might be prescribed for a certain time, the body becomes accustomed to it and the user will experience withdrawal symptoms once they stop the medication. This might be so uncomfortable that the user is too scared to stop the medication. Thus an addiction to prescription medication develops.
A person that is developing an addiction to prescription medication could be very irritable, especially when prescriptions are not available. They could have difficulty sleeping, suffer from mood swings and consume larger quantities of alcohol in order to cope with withdrawal symptoms.
Signs of addictive behaviour could be:
- Frequent requests for refills from physicians
- Losing prescriptions and requesting replacements regularly
- Crushing or breaking pills
- Stealing or borrowing prescription medications from family members, friends, or co-workers
- Consuming prescriptions much faster than indicated
- Visiting multiple doctors for similar conditions
- Inconsistent answers to questions about prescription usage
- Stealing or forging prescriptions
- Consumption of over-the-counter drugs for the same conditions that a doctor has prescribed other medication
- Ordering prescription medications over the internet
Drug detection times
Alcohol: 3-5 days in urine, 10-12 hours in blood
Amphetamines: 1-3 days in urine and around 12 hours in blood
Barbiturates: 2-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Benzodiazepines: 3-6 weeks in urine and 2-3 days in blood
Cannabis: 7-30 days in urine and up to 2 weeks in blood
Cocaine: 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Codeine: 1 day in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
Heroin: 3-4 days in urine and up to 12 hours in blood
LSD: 1-3 days in urine and up to 2-3 hours in blood
MDMA (ecstasy): 3-4 days in urine and 1-2 days in blood
Methamphetamine (crystal meth): 3-6 days in urine and 24 – 72 hours in blood
Methadone: 3-4 days in urine and 24-36 hours in blood
Morphine: 2-3 days in urine and 6-8 hours in blood