The dangers of your medicine cabinet habit

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, a campaign that highlights the growing problem of drug abuse and addiction — not street drugs, however, but the mounting problem of addiction to oft-prescribed medicines.

Look no further than your own medicine cabinet for the source of our nation’s fastest-growing drug problem, which the CDC classifies as an “epidemic.”

“A lot of medications are highly addictive,” says registered pharmacist Todd Brown, MHP, R.Ph., who is the vice chair of the Department of Pharmacy Practice at Bouve College of Health Sciences at Northeastern University. “That’s particularly true of the ones we use for pain. They’re structurally related to heroin and, like heroin, they’re addictive. They produce a euphoria and it’s a normal reaction for the brain to want to repeat that euphoria.”

Highly addictive medications are controlled substances and are labeled. “If it has that sticker that prohibits transfer” — i.e., it is illegal to give away or sell the medication — “it is an addictive drug,” says Brown.

How do we know if we are addicted? “If you are looking to take more than the prescribed amount, then it could be addiction,” he says. “Or, [if] the medications aren’t working. In that case, go back to your doctor. Do not just take more frequent or higher doses.”

If you suspect a friend or family member is abusing  medications, Brown says watch for behavioral changes and know that addicts are often unaware or in denial of their chemical dependence.

“If they’re moody, depressed or anxious, or if they’re looking for your medications, that’s a sign. Confronting them and suggesting they get professional help is one option. But if you can’t confront them, contact the prescriber and alert them of your suspicions. Then they can monitor. Another option is to go to your pharmacist and ask for their advice.”

Not just grown-ups

The Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA) and the Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), which includes U.S. manufacturers and distributors of over-the-counter medicines and supplements, are using National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month to raise parental awareness about prescription and OTC medicine abuse by teens. “It’s now common teen behavior to go through the house, or through relative’s medicine cabinets, looking for medications,” says Brown. “Medications need to be in a secure place.”


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