Are you abusing or addicted to OTC, prescription medication?
What are some of the drugs that come to mind when you think about abuse or addiction? Cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, nyaope? Have over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications ever come to mind when thinking about abuse or addiction? According to SANCA, some of the most commonly abused OTC and prescription medications are benzodiazepines (medications that act as tranquilizers), analgesics (painkillers), codeine products and sleeping tablets – medications that we often keep at home. Despite popular belief that these medications pose little to no risk, they can be harmful if you abuse or are addicted to them. In addition to incorrect use of these medications either leading to tolerance, physical dependency or addiction, it can also lead to certain health conditions or be life-threatening. As part of SANCA Drug Awareness Week, 24 to 30 June, ER24 is urging people to follow the recommended doses, directions and warnings that come with the medication or as stated by their medical practitioner. People who abuse or are addicted to any medication are urged to seek help. According to SANCA, most people do not acknowledge that they have a problem as these medications are viewed as safe and legal. “We call it ‘silent addictions’. People can easily hide this type of addiction and it takes a long time for family or loved ones to realise that there is a problem. “We also live in a chemically-orientated society that finds it socially acceptable to use these legal medications, making it easy to hide and use,” said Adrie Vermeulen, Convener of the SANCA Treatment Portfolio. Some of the long-term effects of abuse of OTC and prescription medications according to Vermeulen include liver damage, stroke, ulcers, gastrointestinal disorders, gallstones, chronic constipation, depression, constant rebound headaches, neurological problems, psychiatric problems and even death in some cases. Some of the short-term effects of using or abusing OTC or prescription medications include drowsiness, vision impairment, loss of co-ordination and concentration, vomiting and even hallucinations in some cases. All medications need to be used with caution as we all react differently. “Aspirin for example, interacts with blood thinners, antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Pseudoephedrine found in cough and cold medications interferes with anti-depressants or stimulants used for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). OTC sleeping aids can contain antihistamines and if taken too much, the reverse effect could happen leading to seizures and heart rhythm abnormalities. OTC laxatives (sodium phosphate) can cause dehydration and abnormal levels of electrolytes in the blood leading to kidney failure. People might combine OTC medication with other substances like some pain medications that contain paracetamol and aspirin (both painkillers) with caffeine and if taken with some soft drinks containing caffeine, can create a euphoric feeling due to the extra caffeine,” said Vermeulen. Children Parents are urged to pay close attention to their children to ensure that they are not abusing or addicted to OTC or prescription medications. According to SANCA, parents may be unaware that teenagers are raiding their medicinal cabinets in order to have “fishbowl” parties. “This is where everyone throws medication into a bowl and shares it. Normally, alcohol, cigarettes and/or other illegal drugs are involved in the process. Some cough mixtures that contain codeine and even alcohol are reported to have been abused by teenagers. Most painkillers and cold and cough medications contain codeine to suppress coughing and other ingredients to relieve mild to moderate pain. Codeine is from the opioid family like heroin and morphine. If used as instructed, it will benefit the person, but if abused, could cause dependency and have harmful consequences,” said Vermeulen. Tips for using OTC and prescription medication in a safe way Most people are unaware of the content of the medication they take and as a result, could accidentally use too much. People might unintentionally mix their medications with other OTC or prescription medications that counteracts the effects of their medication. To use these medications in a safe way Vermeulen suggests the following: • Keep a record of all the medicines you use. Inform your doctor and pharmacist so that they can identify the interactions with each other. • Read the labels and warnings carefully to understand the content and possible side effects. • Use a measuring tool to administer the correct dosage with cough mixtures and other liquid medications. • Do not crush or split medications unless directed by your doctor. • Do not mix and match different OTC medications. • Do not take OTC medication for longer than 10 days for pain or longer than three days for fever. Seek medical attention if symptoms continue. • Do not use someone else’s prescribed medication. • Destroy unused or expired medication in a responsible manner. • Keep medications safely away from babies and children. Ensure that all medications are controlled by adults. • Do not take yourself off chronic medication without the assistance of your doctor as you might experience withdrawal symptoms and it can in some cases be life-threatening. • Seek professional help if you suspect that you or a loved one is addicted. When do OTC and prescription medications become a problem? If you answer YES to any of the following questions, you need to speak to your medical doctor or seek professional help: • Are you using more than the recommended dose and for longer than prescribed for? • Are you using the medication even after the initial reason for using it has ended? • Are you using different doctors and/or pharmacies to obtain large doses of the medication? • Are you using alcohol or other illegal drugs with your medication? • Are you using the medication for non-medical reasons – for the euphoric feeling you get from it? • Are you obtaining medication through illegal means or stealing from family, friends or others? • Are you becoming addicted? Are you unable to stop on your own? Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop? • Has your functioning become impaired, problematic and unmanageable due to your medication-seeking behaviour? • Are you pre-occupied with obtaining and using your medication to such an extent that it is negatively impacting on your life? • Do you share and/or swap medication with other people? Call SANCA on the toll free number 086 147 2622 for professional help. In case of a medical emergency, contact ER24 on 084 124.