Pubdate: Wed, 11 Apr 2007
Source: Daily Bruin (UCLA, CA Edu)
Copyright: 2007 ASUCLA Student Media
Author: Sarah Winter
Cited: Students for a Sensible Drug Policy


An alarming, growing trend of prescription and over-the-counter pill 
misuse might be attributed to misconceptions

The phrase "popping pills" has become more frequently used in 
conversation among college-aged students in recent times. Other terms 
such as overdose and abuse have also become more integrated into the 
daily vocabulary.

Addition of these terms to daily speech is one indication, among 
other information gathered from research and surveys, that reveals 
the increasing occurrence of prescription and over-the-counter pill misuse.

The abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs is on the rise 
among college students, said Daniel Walter, cofounder of Students for 
a Sensible Drug Policy, a trend the group is working to curb.

"We are trying to inform students on the risks of using certain drugs 
recreationally, including those available by prescription and those 
bought over the counter," Walter said.

A common misconception that prescription and over-the-counter drugs 
are safer than illicit drugs is contributing to a staggering increase 
in their abuse among students as young as 9 years old, according to 
the California Poison Control System.

The number of overdoses due to dextromethorphan (DXM), a common 
ingredient in cough suppressants, reported in patients between the 
ages of 9 and 17 has increased more than tenfold in the last few 
years, from 23 cases in 1999 to 375 cases in 2004.

"Students need to know exactly what the dangers are when they misuse 
these drugs," Walter said.

Nearly half of all over-the-counter drugs - more than 125 products - 
contain DXM, the cough suppressant that can be found in stores in 
caplet or liquid form, according to the U.S. Department of Health and 
Human Services.

When taken in large doses, DXM can produce a high, and, according to 
the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, if taken in high 
doses, can impair judgment and mental functioning, which results in 
coordination loss, dizziness, hallucinations, brain damage, seizures 
and possibly death.

Emergency room visits related to abuse of pharmaceuticals increased 
21 percent from 2004 to 2005, while visits related to illicit drugs 
and alcohol remained the same during that period, according to the 
Drug Abuse Warning Network.

In a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 
report, emergency room visits related to anti-anxiety drugs increased 
19 percent and visits related to prescription painkillers went up 24 percent.

But the dangers of abuse are very different between prescription 
drugs and drugs available over the counter.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 15 
million Americans in 2003 reported using prescription drugs for 
nonmedical reasons at least once during the year.

Dr. Michele Van Vranken from the Nemours Foundation said prescription 
drugs are only safe for the individual who actually has the 
prescription for them since a doctor had examined these people and 
knows most accurately the drug's safety relative to the individual.

Commonly misused prescription drugs include painkillers, central 
nervous system depressants and stimulants, Vranken said.

Prescription painkillers, called opioids, are used to treat pain or 
relieve coughs and diarrhea by attaching to receptors in the central 
nervous system and stopping the brain from receiving pain messages.

Depressants such as Nembutal, Valium, and Xanax are used to treat 
anxiety, tension, and sleep disorders by slowing down brain activity.

Inversely, stimulants such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Strattera 
increase brain activity to increase alertness, attention and energy.

When used correctly, these can treat narcolepsy, attention deficit 
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and obesity.

And like all drug abuse, using prescription drugs for the wrong 
reasons has usually resulted in serious risks for a person's health.

Just a single dose of a prescription painkiller can lower a person's 
breathing rate and even lead to death.

The risk is higher when these painkillers are taken with other 
substances such as alcohol, antihistamines and other depressants. 
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