Help for drug addicts

This month’s topic is prescription drug addiction. Just a brief reminder of the steps that you can take if you suspect that you or a loved one is addicted to pain medicines, stimulants or depressants sold over-the-counter or by prescription.

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Prescription drug abuse skyrocketing

Prescription drugs got big in the 90’s.  Researchers are still not sure WHY people are taking more pills, but think that this may be caused a trend initiated by doctors to prescribe medications for pain relief or mental/emotional conditions.  They’re still looking into it.   The fact remains that the use of prescription medications has steadily increased in the past years.

Consider this.

The numbers

How many Americans take prescription pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, or sedatives for non medical purposes?  In 2006 and 2007, about 7 million people aged 12 or older reported non medical use of a prescription drug at least once in the year prior to being surveyed (National Survey of Drug Use), while this number jumped to 15.2 million in 2008 (National Institute of Drug Abuse page on prescription medications).  Some experts even estimate that up to 20% of all Americans use pills for non medical reasons (National Institutes of Health prescription drug abuse overview).  It seems that we have a growing appetite for pills.

What to do for prescription drug addiction

But what should you do if you suspect that you or someone you know is abusing prescription drugs?

1.  Talk about or address your concerns.
No loving relationship can exist without communication.  If you are worried about a friend or family member, talk to the person directly at the right time.  Take your friend out of his/her normal context and plan for more than a five minute “talk”.  Talking about difficult topics like drug addiction require time and sensitivity.  But be aware that denial of drug abuse is common among addicts.  However, it is important that you approach the topic with real concern and have some steps laid out so that you can make recommendations about what comes next if your friend is responsive.

2. Take a survey to analyse possible misuse.  
I could not find a current online self-report test that targets prescription drug use, so you will most likely see a doctor who can perform a professional analysis for addiction.  You might try the Drug Abuse Screening Test from 1982, in which you answer yes or no to 10, 20, or 28 questions, and then total your score to get an interpretation on the severity of problems or consequences related to drug abuse.  However, current medical standards for screening for prescription drug misuse include the following tests:

  •  Addiction Severity Index (ASI)
  •  Chabal 5-Point Prescription Opiate Abuse Checklist
  •  Chemical Use, Abuse, and Dependence Scale (CUAD)
  •  Current Opioid Misuse Measure (COMM)
  •  Drug Abuse Problem Assessment for Primary Care (DAPA-PC)
  •  Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST)
  •  Pain Medication Questionnaire (PMQ)
  •  Prescription Drug Use Questionnaire (PDUQ)
  •  Problem-Oriented Screening Instrument for Teenagers (POSIT)
  • Relax, Alone, Friends, Family, Trouble (RAFFT)
  •  RAFFT and DAST for Adolescents
  •  Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI)
  •  Two-Item Conjoint Screen (TICS)

3. Seek treatment.
No single type of treatment for prescription drug addiction is appropriate for everyone.  If you or a loved one is abusing prescription drugs, figure out which type of treatment is suggested by first consulting with professionals and then make a decision for yourself.  Here are some tips:

  • Call the SAMHSA telephone hotline (800–662–HELP)  to find prescription drug treatment centers.
  • Call the National suicide prevention hotline (1-800-273-TALK) to talk about drug addiction issues.
  • Call your doctor or seek help from another health care professional.  You can locate doctors that specialize in addiction psychiatry by searching the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry or the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry doctor databases.
  • Get information about local resources through the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America These are nonprofits for patients and families with state and local affiliates that can help you where you are.

4. Support treatment
Family and friends can help a loved one with drug problems to enter and stay in treatment through encouragement and by seeking help themselves. Family therapy can address family models and can be especially helpful for families with addicted teens.  Family involvement in addiction treatment can strengthen and extend treatment benefits.

Reference sources:
Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network
Parents, the Anti-Drug website
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration website
The National Insitute on Drug Abuse website
Medline Plus from the National Library of Medicine
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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