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Prescription Drug Addiction in New Hampshire


Prescription medications are often mistakenly thought to be harmless but many can be addictive, particularly if they are taken in ways other than prescribed. Prescription drug abuse is rising around the country, and statistics for prescription drug addiction in New Hampshire show that this state has not escaped what the New Hampshire Center for Excellence calls an “epidemic.” The Center reports that from 2002-2010 drug-related deaths in the state rose from 80 to 174, with the majority involving prescription drugs.

The New Hampshire Drug Control Update released by the White House shows that prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem throughout the country. The New Hampshire Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services Collective Action Issue Brief #2 also points out that car crashes result in fewer deaths than the effects of prescription drug addiction in New Hampshire. Similar trends are found across the country, with 48% more prescriptions for opioid pain relievers dispensed in 2009 than in 2001. According to the Brief, 75% of all prescription drug abuse involves opioids.

Prescription drug addiction involves three main categories of drugs: opioid painkillers, stimulants, and sedatives.

Opiate and Opioids Prescription Drugs

Opiates are drugs derived from the opium poppy, and include morphine and codeine. Opioids are a class of painkilling drugs that includes the natural opiates along with drugs that are derived from or act like opiates. These include hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Oxycontin), which are semi-synthetic and related to heroin, and synthetic opioids like buprenorphine, fentanyl, and methadone.

Opioid drugs affect the pain/pleasure centers in the brain and this blocks pain and produces a sense of euphoria, which some people find addictive. One way in which opioids are abused is by being taken in ways other than directed. Some abusers, for example, crush a pill that is supposed to be taken by mouth and sniff the powder or dissolve and inject it to achieve a more intense “high.”

Stimulant Prescription Drugs

Stimulants are often prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, which involves a tendency to fall asleep too easily. Stimulants are also sometimes prescribed for depression. Examples include Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta. Some people abuse stimulants because they think they will enhance their academic performance, and because they produce a sense of euphoria.

Sedative Prescription Drugs

Sedatives (tranquillizers) are central nervous system depressants and are taken to relieve anxiety and help with sleep disorders and panic attacks. They belong to a class of drugs called benzodiazepines, and include Valium, Librium, and Xanax. These drugs are widely available and often over-used. They are particularly dangerous if taken with alcohol. Benzodiazepines are also known as “date rape” drugs as they can reduce a person’s ability to resist or even remember an assault.

Effects of Prescription Drug Addictio

Addictive drugs affect the brain, which adapts and compensates to the presence of the drug by making changes in brain chemistry, especially to the neurotransmitters such as dopamine that control sensations like reward and pain. Stimulants act on the same neurotransmitter systems as cocaine, and prescription opioids attach to the same cell receptors as heroin. Prescription sedatives act on the brain in the same way as other benzodiazepine date rape drugs like Rohypnol and Gamma-Hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), and can produce similar effects.

The effects of prescription drug addiction include lethargy, nausea, constipation, poor concentration, and confusion. Dizziness and memory problems are common with sedatives. Opiates and sedatives can also cause dangerously slow breathing and low blood pressure. Stimulants can produce poor memory, slurred speech, heart irregularities, and raise the body temperature to dangerously high levels. Extreme agitation, hostility, seizures, and paranoia are also common.

Symptoms of Prescription Drug Addiction

All addictive drugs produce a tolerance if taken over long periods or in large doses, which means more of the drug must be taken to achieve the desired effects. Needing more drugs leads to activities such as using prescriptions meant for others, “doctor shopping,” forging or “losing” prescriptions, or stealing drugs. After a time, obtaining the drug in sufficient quantities becomes more important than almost anything else, and relationships, health, finances, and work all begin to suffer.

Another symptom is that withdrawal symptoms appear within a few hours of stopping taking the drug. These symptoms vary with the specific drug of addiction but almost always include intense cravings for more of the drug, anxiety, and sleep disturbances. Withdrawal from opiates can slow the breathing to dangerous levels and cause extreme drowsiness and brain damage. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms include sweating, heart failure, and seizures. Withdrawal from sedatives causes agitation, panic, rapid pulse, high blood pressure, and even seizures.

Treatments for Prescription Drug Addiction

Addictions of all kinds are difficult to treat and often require long periods of therapy. No single treatment regime is right for everyone, but the first phase is usually ridding the body of the addictive substance through a process of medically-assisted detoxification. During this period the drug of addiction is gradually withdrawn and medicines are prescribed to reduce cravings and deal with the distressing withdrawal symptoms.

After the body is free of the drug of addiction, the patient is usually assessed for mental health problems like depression, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or post-traumatic stress disorder, or mental illnesses such as paranoia or schizophrenia. If a dual diagnosis of mental health disorder and addiction is identified, treatment for both components begins at the same time. Treatments may include continuing medication, psychotherapy, and alternative therapies. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used since it helps the patient to delve into the causes of their addiction, which may include unresolved shame, guilt, anger, or fear, or conditions such as loneliness or feelings of emptiness of despair.

Another form of treatment usually offered for prescription drug addiction in New Hampshire is counseling. This is usually a combination of individual counseling, family counseling, and group therapy involving other patients at a similar stage in recovery. Alternative therapies offered by many rehabs include meditation, massage, restorative yoga, art therapy, and equine therapy.

After leaving intensive treatment, people recovering from prescription drug addiction usually need long-term support from 12-step groups such as Narcotics Anonymous for opiate addiction or Pills Anonymous for any prescription drug. SMART Recovery has open meetings in New Hampshire at Concord, Exeter, and Manchester to support people recovering from all kinds of addiction. These groups can also advise people who think they may have an addiction whether they need help and how to find suitable treatment.

When you are ready to make the life-changing choices necessary to overcome addiction, pick up the phone today. Happiness is within reach as long as you are willing to work for it.