When our doctor gives us a prescription, we expect that it will treat the symptoms bothering us. If we can’t get a cure, then we expect to get at least some level of relief. Most of us don’t take the time to ask either the doctor or the pharmacist about side effects from the medications we are taking, especially whether these drugs could impair our abilities in any way.
Most Consumers Don’t Read Package Inserts
It’s a safe bet that most consumers don’t bother to read the package inserts that come with prescriptions. They are too long and detailed, and the goal is to start taking the medication to start feeling better. Any warning stickers on the bottle cautioning against using alcohol, combining the drug with other foods, that it may cause drowsiness, etc., may be glanced at in a cursory fashion, but the real prize is in the container.
Prescriptions Filled in the US Annually
- According to statistics compiled by statistica.com, US consumers spent $4.17 billon on prescription drugs in 2015 and are predicted to spend $4.27 billion on prescriptions in 2016.
- This figure has been consistently on the rise since 2013, the first year that the website began tracking consumer spending. That year, $3.99 billion was spent on prescriptions.
- By 2021, the projected rate of spending on prescription medications is expected to reach $4.78 billion.
As the population ages, it stands to reason that the number of prescriptions written for certain ailments will increase over time. The amount of spending on prescription medications will follow suit. Patients should take necessary steps to be aware of what they are taking and how it will affect their body, even under the proper dosage.
Dangers of Misusing Prescription Drugs
Prescription medications are supposed to be taken only as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. They specifically give those instructions so that the medication can help you. If you don’t take the medication as directed, you may not get the full effect of the medication, and could make your condition worse to the point of causing another illness
Mixing medications, or taking more than prescribed to get a greater level of relief, is not recommended. You could be getting double the sedative effect of a narcotic pain medication. Add alcohol into the mix, and you’re in a situation where your breathing could become very shallow —causing a medical emergency that requires a trip to the ER.
Misusing Medication is not Uncommon:
Misusing medication is something that is, unfortunately, all too common on college campuses. Some students start using stimulants in order to stay up later to “get an edge” over other learners, thinking they will be able to improve their marks. Others misuse medication for recreational reasons.
The types of medications misused the most are opioid pain relievers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, anxiety medications like Ativan and Valium and stimulants used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and narcolepsy (a type of sleep disorder characterized by sudden sleep attacks).
Misusing medication can take the form of “borrowing” a family or friend’s medication, either with or without their knowledge. Students may use sedatives to “take the edge off” before a big exam, or someone facing a job interview may feel they “need something” to help calm their nerves.
Someone who is already taking this type of medication may be tempted to double up on their dosage in an effort to get more or better relief from their anxiety symptoms. This is especially true if they know they are going into a stressful situation. If a friend or family member has reported that they’ve had success doing this (and have not suffered any negative consequences), it can be tempting to try.
Negative Consequences of Misusing Medication
Unfortunately, what works for one person may not work as well for someone else. Many factors go into choosing a medication and dosage for a particular patient. People who are self-medicating by increasing their dose and not discussing it with their doctor are not getting the benefit of individualized medical advice.
Potential Health Issues Due to Dosage or Type of Drug
Unless the prescription drug was prescribed directly by a doctor, the person using it has no guarantee that they are using the right dosage or even the right medication. They may be taking too much medication, which may lead to unwanted side effects in the short term, or even open the door to longer-term health issues, such as irregular menstrual periods or infertility in women. Some sedatives can cause seizures, while certain stimulants can lead some people to episodes of paranoia. If the dosage is high enough, a stimulant can lead to an increase in body temperature and an abnormally high heartbeat. At this level, the person runs the risk of having potentially fatal heart problems and seizures.
- Higher Risk of Accidents and Injury
Some prescription drugs can cause drowsiness. Due to their sedative properties, they make operating any type of motor vehicle a more risky venture. Motor vehicles include cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, Sea-Doos and snowmobiles.
A drowsy driver will not be able to pay close attention to what is happening around them. Reaction time is slower, and judgment may be impaired because of the medication. The likelihood of being involved in a motor vehicle accident is higher due to misusing the prescription medication.
Misuse of prescription medication that can cause drowsiness can also lead to injuries while operating power tools or heavy equipment. Attempting to use them after taking these types of medications increases the risk of injury due to slower response time and difficulty paying attention during operation.
General drowsiness can also cause increased clumsiness. This can lead to an increased risk of slip-and-fall injuries, muscle sprains or strains. Drowsiness can also make it more challenging to perform everyday tasks, and it ups the likelihood of bumps, cuts and bruises.
- Poor Performance at School or Work
Some people take prescription drugs to give their performance at school or work a boost. While they may be looking for a way to stay up in order to put in longer hours or relieve symptoms of anxiety, they may end up with consequences they had not anticipated.
It becomes very difficult to stay on top of work and school while trying to feed an addiction. Something has to give, and in many instances, the addiction ends up winning.
Some commonly misused prescription medications have the potential to be addictive. When someone takes opioid pain medications (such as OxyContin or Vicodin) or depressants used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders (Ativan or Valium) and similar medications more often than directed by a doctor or start using someone else’s prescription, they run the risk of becoming addicted.
An addict is likely to develop a tolerance for their drug of choice, and will need to keep taking higher doses in order to achieve the same effects. The higher the dosage, the more likely a person will experience side effects that can impair their abilities to have positive, effective personal relationships, to attain and to maintain gainful employment and to have a healthy lifestyle.
- Boomerang Effect from Opioids
Some researchers suggest that once a physical tolerance develops from the opioids, the person experiences opioid induced hyperalgesia. This term refers to the phenomena of feeling increased pain. In other words, taking opioid pain medication at high levels for too long has a boomerang effect and increases the level of pain that the person experiences.
Increased pain levels can get in the way of everyday functioning, from mood, to getting enough sleep, to sitting and walking, to relationships with others. It can also have a bearing on whether someone is able to focus on tasks, their ability to work and their general enjoyment of life.
For this reason, it’s important to take opioid pain medications exactly as directed by a doctor and avoid taking more than what they’ve ordered. Having a realistic understanding of the level of pain relief that can be expected is also important. Though the medications are referred to as “painkillers”, complete pain relief may not be something achievable for everyone prescribed these medications.
Perhaps “pain managers” is a better term, and some patients need to accept that the goal is to help them control their pain, as opposed to eliminating it completely.
- Legal Consequences of Misusing Prescription Drugs
Under federal law (21 U.S. Code §n829), it is illegal for anyone other than a pharmacist to distribute Schedule II drugs to a user. Even a pharmacist must have a written prescription to distribute medications in this class, which includes:
- Fentanyl Transdermal System
All of these medications have the potential to impair your abilities if taken in high enough doses. The law states that possessing or using someone else’s prescription is a crime. Giving the drugs to someone else is practicing medicine without a license, and you could lose your job for committing this offense.
If you take your own prescription medication incorrectly and become impaired, you can be charged with Driving Under the Influence (DUI). Depending on the state where you live, if you give your prescription drugs to someone else, you could be responsible for their injuries if they take them and are involved in an accident. If the person who took your prescription drugs gives them to a third person, you could be held responsible for that person’s injuries as well.
Some types of jobs require the use of a vehicle for work. If you work in one of these types of career fields, your ability to work will be severely restricted. You may not be able to continue in your current job if you’re driving privileges are suspended as the result of being charged with a DUI.
Common Prescription Drugs that Impair Memory
Becoming forgetful and having difficulty remembering things is not just a normal part of aging. The medications you’re taking may have something to do with how sharp your memory is from day to day. Getting too little sleep, having too much stress, depression, drug and alcohol abuse can all contribute to forgetfulness. These commonly prescribed drugs can also interfere with a person’s ability to remember too:
- Antiseizure Medications
These types of medications are prescribed to treat seizures, bipolar disorder, mania mood disorders and nerve pain. Examples include Tegretol, Neurontin, Topomax, Depakote and Zonegran.
Anticonvulsant drugs limit the number of seizures a patient experiences by slowing the flow of signals in the central nervous system (CNS). Drugs that slow down this signaling in the CNS can lead to memory loss.
- Antidepressant Drugs
Tricyclic antidepressant (TCAs) drugs treat depression, as well as chronic pain, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other medical conditions. Some doctors prescribe them for severe menstrual cramps, hot flashes, and smoking cessation. Examples of drugs in the class are Elavil, Norpramin, Surmontil and Tofranil.
TCAs cause memory issues and cause memory problems in some people taking them by blocking the progress of serotonin and norepinephrine, which are two of the brain’s most important chemical messengers. There is more than one type of antidepressant medication, and SSRIs (selective serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) may be less likely to cause this type of side effect.
- Benzodiazepines (Antianxiety Drugs)
Benzodiazepines are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms and seizures. Drugs in this class include Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Halcion and Restoril.
Benzodiazepines slow activity in certain parts of the brain, including the ones that transfer events from short-term to long-term memory. Hospitals may use this type of drug as an anesthetic due to this property. When benzodiazepines are administered as part of a cocktail of medications, patients do not recall anything about a procedure.
- Opioid Pain Medications
This class of medication is prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain. Doctors often prescribe them to people with chronic pain or cancer. Drugs in this class include Vicodin, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Percocet and Fentanyl.
Opioids work by interrupting the flow of pain signals in the central nervous system and by dulling one’s emotional reaction to pain. Each one of these reactions are moderated by the brain’s chemical messengers, which are also involved in cognitive function. Long term use of these medications can have a negative impact on both short- and long-term memory.
- Sedatives (Nonbenzodiazepines)
These types of medications are used to treat anxiety, insomnia and other types of sleep issues. Examples of these types of medications include Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata.
Sedatives act on the same brain pathways as benzodiazepines and produce similar side effects and issues with addiction and withdrawal. These types of medications can sometimes lead to behaviors considered strange or even dangerous, such as people performing activities like driving or cooking a meal without having any recollection of it after waking up. This is sleepwalking carried to the extreme.
Common Drugs that Impair Driving
Many prescription drugs have a profound effect on a person’s driving ability. Some do cause reactions that make it more challenging, or even unsafe, to drive. These reactions include some, or all, of the following:
- Blurred vision
- Drowsiness or sleepiness
- Lack of ability to pay attention
- Slowed movement
The following types of medications can impair a driver’s ability to be effective behind the wheel:
Opioid Pain Medications
Opioid pain medications like OxyContin, Vicodin, hydrocodone, methadone and Percocet can impair thinking and slow reaction time. Anyone who takes a medication in this class should avoid getting behind the wheel until they know how the medication affects them. It can also cause episodes of dizziness or severe drowsiness, which can be dangerous when operating any type of motorized vehicle.
Suboxone is a prescription medication used to treat opioid dependence. Patients usually take it as a single dose each day. This medication can interfere with a person’s ability to drive a car or operate machinery. The risk is especially acute during the beginning of treatment or during times when the dosage is being adjusted. Patients should be cautioned by their doctor or pharmacist not to drive or operate equipment until they’re familiar with how Suboxone will affect them.
Benzodiazepines like Ativan can interfere with a person’s reaction time and ability to think. For these reasons, patients who take drugs in this class receive warnings against driving. Ativan’s effects are more pronounced in older people.
Xanax is in the same class of medications. It can also impair thinking and reactions. Patients should be careful when driving or doing any activity that requires them to be alert while taking the drug.
- Sedatives (Nonbenzodiazepines)
All medications prescribed to treat insomnia can impair the ability of drivers to perform well when operating a motor vehicle. The results of a new study found that older drivers who use a sedative to help them sleep are particularly at risk for car accidents. Researchers found that women who used Ambien were 61 percent more likely to be involved in a crash over five years than those who did not. New users of sleeping pills of any age, tended to have double the risk of being in a car accident than nonusers, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The sedatives in the study, which included Ambien, Restoril and trazodone, tended to leave users feeling, “hung over”uthe next day, which they described as feeling tired and dizzy even though they had slept. This general fuzziness in thinking could contribute to the increased risk of being in an accident.
Some prescription-strength antihistamines, such as Atarax, work by reducing the level of activity in the central nervous system. They also reduce the natural amount of histamine in the body. Histamine produces symptoms such as runny nose, sneezing and hives on the skin during cold and allergy season.
Atarax is also prescribed as a sedative to treat anxiety. It can also be combined with other medications as part of a cocktail given as anesthesia. This drug can also treat allergic reactions on the skin, such as contact dermatitis or hives.
Atarax can impair a person’s reactions or judgment. Older people are more likely to have a reaction to the drug. Users should take caution if attempting to drive or doing any activity that requires alertness while taking this medication or others in its class.
You have seen how prescription drugs impair your abilities, including the possibility of developing an addiction. If you are concerned that your use of prescription medications may have crossed the line to dependence, contact JourneyPure Emerald Coast now. We can help.