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Prescription Drug Addiction in West Virginia

Prescription drugs can save lives, ease chronic pain and work miracles in correcting the symptoms of numerous debilitating conditions. When taken under the orders of a doctor, these drugs are generally very safe to use. However, there are certain categories that present a risk of causing addiction if they are used improperly.

The terms of a doctor’s prescription are usually designed to greatly minimize the risk of addiction, and if patients stick to their doctor’s instructions, they will very rarely develop any kind of a problem. The trouble comes when patients go off the script. Drugs like opioids and stimulants produce pleasurable psychoactive effects that will sometimes tempt patients into using them more frequently than they are supposed to, or to continue using them after they no longer need them for medical purposes. This is considered to be substance abuse, and it is a road to addiction if patients continue with it for long enough.

Patients who take these drugs for too long invariably develop a tolerance to them, which requires them to take greater amounts to get the same effects. These greater amounts also accelerate the process of physical dependency. The receptors that are needed to regulate various mood chemicals become damaged with this prolonged pill abuse and eventually lose their normal function. When this happens, the patient cannot function normally without taking the drug at regular intervals, sometimes multiple times per day in advanced cases of addiction.

Statistics for Prescription Drug Addiction in West Virginia

As of 2015, the most recent statistics available indicate that West Virginia leads the nation in drug overdose deaths. According to statistics collected by the Centers for Disease Control, West Virginia’s drug overdose problem is far and away worse than that of any other state. The state saw 34 overdose deaths per 100,000 residents in 2013, significantly more than second-place New Mexico’s 28.2 deaths. This rate was also more than double the national average of 13.4 deaths per 100,000. In total, West Virginia averaged 600 drug overdose deaths a year from 2009 to 2014.

The most recent White House Drug Control Report indicates that opiates other than heroin are far and away the most abused type of drug in West Virginia. They are abused at a rate over twice that of marijuana, eight times that of cocaine and heroin, and 32 times that of methamphetamine. While opiate pain pill abuse is the fastest-growing sector of drug use across the nation, West Virginia is still anomalous in how disproportionate the abuse of opiate pain pills is to every other type of drug. The gigantic rate at which it is outpacing marijuana use is particularly worrisome, since marijuana is generally the most frequently abused substance cited in these reports by far.

According to an October 2015 report in West Virginia’s MetroNews, out of the 628 overdose deaths in the state in 2014, 199 were due to Oxycodone and 133 were due to Hydrocodone. These are the two most frequently prescribed opioid pain pills. Drug overdose deaths in 2014 were double the rate of motor vehicle deaths caused by alcohol.

The Commonly Abused Prescription Drug Types

 

Opioids

Opioids are a class of pain pills derived from the opium poppy. Of course, opium has a long history of abuse and addiction that dates back over a thousand years. But opiate pain pills are generally regarded as having a very minimal risk of addiction when they are used for short-term pain relief under the orders of a doctor. The problem is that these pills produce a sense of euphoria and confidence, and people are often tempted to use them above and beyond the terms of their prescriptions.

Stimulants

When we think of stimulants, it is usually in terms of illegal street drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. But there are also prescription stimulants, most commonly prescribed for attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy. Ritalin and Adderall are the two most common of these. College students have been known to abuse them to get a mental edge for tests and pull all-night study sessions. But they are also a popular stimulant among younger students, who will sometimes crush and smoke or inject them in an attempt to get high.

 

Sedatives

Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are the two classes of sedatives that can potentially cause an addiction if they are abused. Sedative abuse is relatively rare as compared to other types of drug abuse, but they present a serious threat of overdose when combined with alcohol or other types of depressants. Users of stimulants may begin habitually using them to ease their symptoms as they come down, and some people also abuse them to mask the symptoms of an untreated anxiety disorder.

Prescription Drug Categories

The Drug Enforcement Agency maintains a list of controlled substances that are organized according to a schedule. Each drug falls into a category from I to V, with Schedule I drugs representing those that are the most highly addictive and bereft of medical use.

Since prescription drugs do have a valid medical use, they tend to fall into the lower slots of the drug schedule. Most of the opioid pain pills are Schedule II drugs, as despite their common medical use they also present a serious risk for abuse and addiction. Ritalin and Adderall, which contain potent amphetamines, are also listed in Schedule II.

Some of the opioid medications that are lower-dose (like Tylenol with Codeine) or used specifically for management of opioid addictions (like buprenorphine) are classified as Schedule III drugs. Cough medicines with less than 200 milligrams of codeine per 100 milliliters are Schedule V drugs.

Most of the sedatives that have potential for addiction are classified as Schedule IV drugs.

Options for Treatment

Treatment for a prescription drug addiction consists of medical detox, followed by a period of inpatient or outpatient treatment. The exact course of treatment will vary depending on which drug is being taken, how severe the addiction is and if there are mental health symptoms contributing to the addiction. Those who are addicted to an opiate drug may also be prescribed a management medication like buprenorphine or methadone, which helps to quell their cravings without getting them high.

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