By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
March 9, 2008
Actor Heath Ledger died from an accidental overdose of prescription medications including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills, the New York City medical examiner’s office said. Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan and other “celebrities” have also been known to take these medications. Used together — and with alcohol — these drugs have an unpredictable impact, can be addictive and are sometimes fatal.
Lohan in a frightful piblicity photo.
And the shooters in the most violent campus multiple-killings, at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, have both had some history with a mixture of prescription medications.
The journal Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine recently reported that compared to college students taking prescription drugs for medical reasons, those who use medications without a prescription are more likely to abuse illegal drugs. The report also gave information on the high number of our college students using such drugs as sleep aids and anti-depressants.
Sean Esteban McCabe, Ph.D., M.S.W. (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor) says that in the last decade there has been a dramatic increase in prescription rates of medications – such as stimulants, opioids, and benzodiazepines – that are likely to be abused in the United States.
“These increases are likely the result of many factors, including improved awareness regarding the signs and symptoms of several disorders, increased duration of treatment, availability of new medications and increased marketing,” said Dr. McCabe. “The increases in prescription rates have raised public health concerns because of the abuse potential of these medications and high prevalence rates of non-medical use, abuse and dependence, especially among young adults 18 to 24 years of age.”
Most people familiar with today’s young people, the Hollywood tabloids and other information sources can readily conclude what drugs are most used and abused.
Painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills are the most used and abused drugs among our college students and throughout our society, experts say.
According to Medical News Today, Dr. McCabe used a Web survey of 3,639 college students to acquire information about prescription drug use and potential drug abuse. The average age of the sample was 19.9 years. Students were asked if they used prescribed or had used without a prescription.
Students were also asked if they had experienced drug-related problems like engaging in illegal activities to obtain drugs, having withdrawal symptoms, or developing medical problems due to drug use.
Results of the survey are summarized below:
–59.9% reported medically using at least one of the four drugs with a prescription
–About 20% reported taking them without a prescription for non-medical reasons
–39.7% reported that they had used the drugs only by prescription
–4.4% used medications, but were not prescribed them
–15.8% reported using some medications, both with and without prescriptions
The researcher also found that students who reported using drugs without prescriptions were more likely to screen positive for drug abuse compared to students who never used them or who had only used them for medical reasons.
Dr. McCabe believes that physicians should be extremely careful when prescribing commonly abused drugs to college students.
“Clearly, appropriate diagnosis, treatment and therapeutic monitoring of college students who are receiving abusable prescription medications is crucial, not only to improve clinical outcomes but also to help prevent the abuse of these medications within a population that is largely responsible for its own medication management,” he writes.
“Finally, any efforts aimed at reducing non-medical use of prescription drugs will have to take into consideration that these drugs are highly effective and safe medications for most patients who use them as prescribed.”
There is another insidious implication of Dr. McCabe’s study. If college students are taking these drugs at an alarming rate; when did they start? For most, they start down this path while in high school or before.
Some of the Commonly Abused Medications
Oxycodone, a painkiller, is the active ingredient in the prescription drug OxyContin. Hydrocodone, another painkiller, is often combined with acetaminophen, as in the prescription drug Vicodin. Diazepam, sold under the commercial name Valium, is used to relieve anxiety, muscle spasms, and seizures and to control agitation caused by alcohol withdrawal. Temazepam, brand name Restoril, is prescribed in the short term to help patients fall asleep and stay asleep through the night.
Alprazolam, commonly known under the brand name Xanax, is part of a class of medications called benzodiazepines used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks by decreasing abnormal excitement in the brain.
Doxylamine, found in common “nighttime sleep aids,” is an an antihistamine that causes drowsiness as a side effect and is used in the short-term treatment of insomnia. (It is also used, in combination with decongestants, to relieve cough and cold symptoms.)
Ambian is a nightime sleep aid that is often abused and can be addictive.
The painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone are opiates, which are dangerous when combined with anti-anxiety medicines like diazepam, alprazolam and temazepam. According to asite, oxycodone is often abused and an acute overdose can cause respiratory arrest and death.
Diazepam is sold under the brand name Valium and alprazolam is sold under the name Xanax. Temazepam is also used as a sleep aid and sold under the name Restoril. Doxylamine, a sleep aid and antihistamine, is an active ingredient in a number of over-the-counter medications, including NyQuil.