BlessWorld Foundation International

Affecting the World Through Health
A Global Health Initiative

Global Health- Prescription Drug Abuse and Overdose



Prescription drugs are  pharmaceutical drugs or medications that require a medical prescription to be dispensed or purchased, and used. They are strong drugs which must be given in cognisance of a patient’s personal information and medical history as well as the drug’s form, dose and side effects. As a consequence, they require a doctor’s prescription following a careful deliberation on the potential benefits and risks of the drugs for each patient. When misused, these medications become as harmful and as addictive hard or street drugs. In contrast, over-the-counter drugs (OTC) are those drugs that can be dispensed without prescription, to treat illnesses that do not require the extensive care  of healthcare professionals. They have lower strength and higher safety standards compared to prescription drugs, and can be used by patients for self-medication.

Prescription drug abuse and overdose occurs when these medications are taken in ways different, or for reasons different than that prescribed by the doctor. These may include taking them without prescription, taking higher doses than prescribed, combining them with other substances, crushing the tablets to snort or inject them and using them for recreational purposes. It is illegal to obtain prescription drugs over-the-counter or without a medical prescription. Therefore, these drugs should be dispensed exclusively for medical reasons, as prescribed by a doctor. Generally, the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs have increased in recent decades, resulting in the subsequent increase in emergency room visits due to drug overdose. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) estimates that approximately 40 million people, aged 12 and above, have used prescription drugs for reasons other than medical, in their lifetime. Common classes of prescription drugs include opioids, depressants, sedatives, tranquilizers and stimulants.

Prescription drug abuse is a public health problem which leads to addiction or death from overdose. Following marijuana and alcohol, these drugs are the most commonly misused substances in the United States. The number of teenagers who use these drugs have continued to increase due to the recreational effects of the drugs.  The most salient reasons for which these drugs are misused include to get high and have fun, to stay alert or awake, to lose weight and to reduce pain or feel numb. Many people have the misconception that prescription drugs are safer and less addictive than street or hard drugs since they can be prescribed for medical use. On the contrary, these drugs are only safe for the patients for whom they are prescribed because a doctor would have examined them, and then, specified the appropriate dose of the drug for a specific medical condition. The doctor would also have explained the side effects and how to minimize them as well as the foods or activities (such as smoking and drinking) to avoid while taking them to ensure safety.

Preventing and reducing the problematic misuse of prescription drugs should be a global priority. To achieve this aim, collaborations and partnerships should be made within and between countries, especially by governments and organizations whose goal is to reduce the use, and harms associated with prescription drugs. In Canada, the Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) developed a Naloxone Costing Tool to evaluate the accessibility of naloxone and potentially decrease the number deaths due to opioids overdose. Additionally, CCSA’s “Do No Harm” strategy emphasizes actions- notably policy, promotion, education and empowerment, required to address, prevent, treat and monitor prescription drug misuse.

Comments are closed.