Take Only as Prescribed
"It happened without any warning, a sudden wave of terror," Jane recalled. "My
heart was pounding, I could not catch my breath and my feet were unstable.
I thought that I was having a heart attack!"
In the emergency room, Jane tested negative for any type of heart problem.
However, it was found that she did suffer from anxiety attacks. Accordingly,
Jane was prescribed a central nervous system (CNS) depressant in the form of
a barbiturate. Soon, the anxiety attacks all but disappeared.
Today, however, Jane suffers from another problem. Believing that she had
been prescribed a "miracle drug", Jane began taking more than the prescribed
amount. At first, she experienced difficulty in coping with life events without
taking a pill. Then
Jane found herself using a combination of drugs to achieve a certain mood
and feel normal. Eventually, Jane's work and family were adversely affected
by her abuse of prescription drugs. Finally, Jane realized that for years she
had not been taking her prescribed CNS depressants as prescribed, oblivious
to the potential danger involved in misusing and/or abusing the prescription.
Generally, medicines are prescribed to combat illness, relieve pain and to
make us feel better. Prescriptions, though, are often more powerful than many
of us realize, and the side effects can be dangerous – especially when
used incorrectly. Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., Director of the National Institute
on Drug Abuse, states: "Most people who take prescription medications take
them responsibly; however, the non-medical use of abuse of prescription drugs
remains a serious public health concern. Certain prescription drugs – opioids,
central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants – when abused,
can alter the brain's activity and lead to dependence and possibly addiction." Dr.
Leshner states further that "an estimated 9 million people aged 12 and older
used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in 1999; more than a quarter
of that number reported using prescription drugs non-medically for the first
time in the previous year."
Also, as reported by the Performance Resource Press:
||More deaths and injuries are caused by the
abuse of prescription drugs than from the use of all illegal drugs combined.
||Fifty percent of older adults regularly use
over-the-counter medicine. One out of every four adults over the age of
60 takes four or more prescribed medications at once. One-third of older
adults take medications prescribed by more than one doctor, and 77 percent
of this group do not discuss with one doctor the medications prescribed
Unfortunately more than one-half of all prescription drugs are taken incorrectly
(i.e., taking medicine in larger doses or more frequently than prescribed
or mixing them with other drugs). Generally, a medication may be safe when
used alone, but can be potentially deadly when used in combination with other
drugs, including alcohol.
Commonly-Abused Prescription Drugs
Although any prescription drug can be misused and/or abused, the big three
are: (1) Opioids (Narcotics); (2) CNS Depressants (Tranquilizers) and (3) Stimulants.
(a.k.a. narcotics) are commonly prescribed because of their effective
analgesic or pain-relieving properties. Medications in this class include but
are not limited to morphine, codeine, oxycodone (OxyContin), propoxyphen (Darvon),
hydro- codone (Vicodin), and hydromorphone (Dilaudid) and meperidine (Demerol).
This group of prescribed medications act by attaching to specific proteins
(called opioid receptors) in the brain, spinal cord and gastrointestinal tract.
When these drugs attach to specific opioid receptors, they can block the transmission
of pain messages to the brain. Opioids can cause euphoria by affecting the
brain regions that mediate what we perceive as pleasure.
The possible consequences of opioid use and abuse can result in tolerance
for the drug. In other words, this means that users must take higher doses
to achieve the same initial effects. Long-term use can also lead to physical
dependence and addiction – the body adapts to the presence of the drug,
and physical withdrawal symptoms occur as use is reduced or stopped. Symptoms
of withdrawal include but are not limited to restlessness, muscle and bone
pain, insomia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes and involuntary movements.
When opioids are taken exactly as prescribed, they can be used to manage pain
depressants. This class is comprised of substances that can slow
normal brain function. CNS depressants are useful in the treatment of anxiety
and sleep disorders. Among the medications that are commonly prescribed
for this purpose are:
|| Barbiturates – include mephobarbital
and Nembutal, which are used normally to treat anxiety, tension and sleep
|| Benzodiazepines – include diazepam
(Valium), cholorodiaze-poxide HCl (Librium) and alprazolam (Xanax), which
are used normally to treat anxiety, acute stress reactions and panic attacks.
There are many CNS depressants, and most act on the brain by affecting the
neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). In other words, neurotransmitters
are brain chemicals that facilitate communication between brain cells. GABA
works by decreasing brain activity. More specifically, different classes of
CNS depressants work in their own way to increase GABA activity in order to
produce a calming effect that is beneficial to those suffering from anxiety
or sleep disorders.
Barbiturates and benzodiazepines have the potential for abuse and should
be used only as prescribed. When an individual uses such drugs long-term, his
or her body will develop tolerance for the drugs, and larger doses will be
needed to achieve the same initial effects.
Furthermore, insofar as CNS depressants work by slowing the brain's activity
when an individual stops taking them, the brain's activity can rebound and
race out of control, possibly leading to seizures and other harmful consequences.
Consequently, someone who is thinking about discontinuing CNS-depressant therapy
or who is suffering withdrawal from CNS depressant should speak with a physician
or seek medical treatment before so doing.
are a group of drugs that enhance brain activity – they cause an increase
in alertness, attention and energy that are accompanied by elevated blood pressure
and increased heart rate and respiration. This group is used to treat asthma
and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders and a variety
of other ailments.
Today, commonly-known stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and
methylphenidate (Ritalin). Their chemical structures increase the norephinephrine
and dopamine in the brain. For that reason the consequences of stimulant abuse
can be dangerous. Stimulants can be addictive in that individuals begin to
use them compulsively. Taking high does of some stimulants repeatedly over
a short time can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia.
So what are you to do if you find yourself like our friend Jane or how do
you keep medicines from becoming an additional or new problem? Needless to
say, careful use and knowledge of the medicines prescribed to you should prevent
mishaps. Also, adhere to the following:
||Take exactly the amount of drug prescribed
and follow the dosage scheduled as closely as possible. If you have questions,
call your doctor or pharmacist.
||Never take drugs prescribed for a friend or
relative, even though your symptoms may be the same. Medicines do not produce
the same effects in all people.
||Always tell your doctor about problems you
have had with drugs, such as rashes, indigestion, dizziness or lack of
||When your doctor prescribes a new drug be sure
to mention all of the others medicines you are currently taking, including
those prescribed by another doctor and those you buy without prescription.
If you believe that you (or someone you know) may have a problem with prescription
drugs, contact the MSBA Lawyer Assistance Program at (410) 685-7878 or (800)
492-1964, ext. 3041, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Remember, we are a free, confidential lawyer (and employee) assistance program
for legal professionals in Maryland.