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Prescription Drug Addiction

The severity of prescription drug addiction in Utah is an increasing public health concern. The number of accidental overdose deaths caused by prescription drug addiction in Utah is estimated to be approximately 21 per month, which is an alarming number.

Taking any prescription medication for non-medical purposes, or in any way other than was prescribed by a doctor is considered prescription drug abuse.  Taking medication prescribed for another person, or purchasing medications for recreational purposes, or to get high or stoned, is also considered prescription drug abuse.

How Does Prescription Drug Addiction Develop?

When medications are taken exactly as prescribed and used under strict medical supervision these drugs can be very effective at treating specific medical conditions.

However, prescription medications cause significant changes in the brain’s chemistry. The drugs create artificial shortcuts to the brain’s reward pathways, which is interpreted by the user as being a more effective way to experience the rewards usually reserved for completing activities associated with sustaining life.

Over a period of time, consistent drug abuse causes the brain to adapt to the presence of drugs in the system. The brain over-compensates for the level of drugs in the system, so the user needs to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. By taking higher doses, the user also risks an increased likelihood of accidental overdose.

Eventually, the brain is tricked into believing it can’t produce dopamine or serotonin naturally unless it receives the artificial stimulation of more drugs. The user is considered dependent on the substance of abuse once they have reached this point.


Common Drugs of Abuse

The most commonly abused prescription medications fall within one of three categories. Those are:


Opiate drugs are usually prescribed to treat chronic pain. Opiates are the compounds found naturally within the opium poppy, including morphine and codeine. Opioid drugs are synthesized from morphine and act in similar ways. Common opioid drugs are oxycontin (OxyCodone and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), fentanyl (Duragesic), and methadone.

Heroin is also an opioid drug that is almost identical to oxycodone on a molecular level. Heroin was also sold as a prescription medication until it was deemed an illegal Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act.


Sedative/hypnotic medications are usually prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders or sleep disorders. In some instances, they may also be called tranquilizers.

Sedatives act directly on the central nervous system as a depressant that slows down brain functions. The most commonly abused prescription sedative medications are benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax or Klonopin), barbiturates (phenobarbital), and imidazopyridines (Ambien).


Stimulant medications are commonly used to treat people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. The drugs act directly on the central nervous system as strong stimulants that counteract fatigue and enhance concentration levels.

Some of the more commonly abused stimulant medications include amphetamines (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin or Concerta). Cocaine is also a strictly controlled Schedule II prescription medication that may sometimes be used in limited situations, although it’s more commonly used for recreational purposes.

Signs and Symptoms of Prescription Drug Abuse

The signs and symptoms associated with prescription drug abuse will be different for each person and will depend on the type of drug being taken. There are some common signs to watch for, including:

  • Taking medication at higher doses than the doctor prescribed
  • Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor
  • Constantly ‘losing’ prescriptions and needing to get more written
  • Appearing to be uncommonly sedated, energetic, moody, or high
  • Defensiveness when asked about drug use
  • Stealing, forging, or selling prescriptions
  • Tolerance to dosage levels

Statistics for Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction in Utah

According to statistics released by the Trust for America’s Health, Utah ranks the 5th highest state in the nation for drug overdose deaths.

The Utah Department of Health released a report in 2012 indicating that the number of overdose deaths from prescription opioid drugs is responsible for more than all other types of drug categories combined since 2002, including heroin, cocaine, and prescription benzodiazepine drugs.

The same report showed that the number of deaths from overdosing on prescription medications containing oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet) accounted for 52.8% of all deaths caused by prescription painkiller deaths in 2012.


Prescription Drug Treatment Programs

Treating a person in the grip of prescription drug addiction is a complex process. The person is required to complete the detox process to break the body’s physical dependency on the drug. However, detox doesn’t treat the psychological side of the addiction, which requires intensive behavioral therapy to correct.

Drug treatment centers in Utah will assess each individual patient to determine the right combination of treatments to suit the person’s characteristics, the type of drug being taken, and the severity of the addiction before deciding on a course of action.

Opioid Treatment

Treating a person struggling with addiction to opioid painkiller medications is almost exactly the same as treating someone with a heroin addiction. Detox is the first step in treatment, which may induce the onset of withdrawal symptoms in some users.  Rehab centers in Utah may choose to use replacement medications, such as methadone or Suboxone to reduce the severity of symptoms.

Without using replacement medication, a user going through the detox process may experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bone aches, runny nose, flu-like symptoms, fever, anxiety, and depression.

Recovering people also require intensive counseling that focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy to correct self-destructive behaviors that trigger addictive drug use. Therapy also works to replace dysfunctional behaviors and replace them with healthy habits and new coping skills for living a sober life.

Sedative Treatment

Treating a person with an addiction to prescription sedative medications need careful supervision. It is extremely dangerous to stop taking sedative drugs suddenly, as withdrawal can cause potentially life-threatening symptoms that require emergency medical attention. Instead, proper treatment involves carefully tapering the dosage of medication down over a period of time.

Intensive counseling is also required to address the psychological triggers behind the addictive drug use.

Stimulant Treatment

Treating a person with an addiction to stimulant medication can be complex, as the deep psychological dependency is difficult to correct. The user may only experience mild physical withdrawal symptoms during the detox process, but the psychological symptoms of detox can be severe enough to warrant around-the-clock supervision for the user’s safety.

Acute symptoms of stimulant withdrawal may happen within the first few days after the person’s last use. Yet the psychological symptoms of withdrawal can extend for weeks or even months after the last usage.

Symptoms typically include fiercely intense cravings to take more of the drug, increased appetite, sleep problems and disturbances, mental fogginess, confusion, anxiety, irritability, agitation, nightmares, deep depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Why Seek Professional Addiction Treatment?

Struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs can consume a person’s life. Yet it is possible to achieve a successful recovery with the right combination of treatments and therapies.

It is strongly advised that detoxing from prescription medications is conducted under medical supervision. Medical staff can administer treatment medications to help reduce the severity of any withdrawal symptoms that may arise. Treatment can also help you to regain control of your life and break the cycle of addiction. For more information about available treatment, pick up the phone today. You too can beat addiction.