Drug Abuse: Prescribed Narcotics and Sedatives 

Prolonged or overuse of drugs prescribed for pain or sedation may lead to addiction or dependence. Just because these medicines are legal doesn't mean they can't cause problems. This is true whether they are overused or not. It is also dangerous when these medicines are used differently from how your healthcare provider has instructed. Also, if you don't take the medicine, someone else might try to use it. Currently 4 out of 5 heroin users in the U.S. started by using or misusing prescription opioids.

Physical dependence leads to drug withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug. With psychological addiction, you feel a strong craving for the drug. You may be unable to stop using the drug even though you want to stop. These problems can happen even when the medicine is taken at the prescribed dose. This is especially true if you take these medicines for a long time. 

Drug addiction places you, your family, and your job at risk. You could be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail. You have a higher chance of accidental injuries to yourself or others while under the influence of the drug. Death from an unintentional overdose of the drug is one of the greatest risks.

Health problems

Many possible health problems are related to drug abuse. Different medicines have different risks. Medicines can cause problems even if you have no history of health problems. Some problems are affected by the other medicines you may be taking and chronic illness you may have. Some are directly related to the drugs, and others from addiction or dependency. Here are some risks:

  • Drowsiness or sleeping for long periods

  • Anxiety

  • Seizures

  • Blood pressure problems

  • Depression

  • Insomnia

  • Nausea, vomiting, and stomach problems

  • Slurred speech

  • Trouble breathing

  • Dizziness

  • Skin infections

  • Muscle pain and spasms

  • Strokes, heart attacks, and kidney failure

  • HIV infection. You are at much greater risk if you use IV drugs.

  • Other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as herpes, chlamydia, or gonorrhea

  • Severe and fatal infection of the heart valves if you use IV drugs

  • Coma and death 

Get care

The following steps can help you:

  • Admit to yourself and your family and close friends that you have a drug problem.

  • Tell your doctors about this problem so they can help you by adjusting the type and amount of medicines that they give you in the future. It is best to get all prescriptions for addictive medicines from a single doctor who can check what is being prescribed.

  • Ask your doctor for a referral for professional help. This could be one-on-one psychotherapy, counseling, or a drug treatment program. The treatment program can be outpatient or residential.

  • Join a self-help group for drug abuse.

  • Stay away from friends who abuse drugs or tempt you to continue abusing drugs.

  • Don't combine pain medicines and sedatives together or with alcohol. This can cause oversedation or coma, and stop your breathing.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Contact one of these resources for help:

  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, www.ncadd.org

  • Narcotics Anonymous, www.na.org

  • National Alcohol and Substance Abuse Information Center , 800-784-6776,  www.addictioncareoptions.com

Call 911

Call 911 if any of the following occur:

  • Seizure

  • Hard time breathing or slow, irregular breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Sudden weakness on one side of your body or sudden trouble speaking

  • Very drowsy or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Very slow heart rate

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur: 

  • Agitation, anxiety, or unable to sleep

  • Unintended weight loss

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Cough with colored sputum

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