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Q and A on prescription drugs

By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008

An in-depth multimedia presentation about prescription overdose deaths.

Related story:

Q&APrescription drugs

What are the chances of getting addicted to prescription painkillers?

Very small if taken as prescribed. Patients who take the drugs for recreation or use them outside of their doctor's instructions increase their chances of becoming addicted.

Am I at greater risk if my family has a history of addiction?

Yes. If you have had a problem abusing alcohol or drugs, or even an addiction to things like gambling or sex, you are more likely to become addicted to prescription drugs. Addiction also can be hereditary, so if family members have substance abuse histories, you also are at risk.

Why are prescription drugs so widely abused?

The drugs make some people high or euphoric. To get a greater high, abusers crush, bite or inject the pills, or mix them with other drugs.

Are these drugs safer than drugs like cocaine and heroin?

No. They are just as dangerous as illicit drugs if taken outside of a doctor's instructions, especially if they are mixed.

How do prescription drugs accidentally kill someone?

If a person takes too much of an opioid painkiller, it will suppress breathing to the point of death.

How do you avoid accidentally overdosing?

Take the drugs only as prescribed. If they aren't providing enough relief, don't take them too fast. Talk to your doctor. Don't alter the pills, and avoid mixing them with other drugs or alcohol. Never use other people's drugs or let them use yours.

What are warning signs of addiction?

Abusers become obsessed with obtaining the drug. This may prompt changes in personality and cause social withdrawal. Watch for signs of doctor shopping or other unlawful ways of getting drugs. The person also may try to hide evidence they have a problem.

Are there different warning signs for teens?

Yes. Watch out if your child changes friends, particularly if the new pals are older. Teens abusing drugs also will care less about their appearance, their home life, hobbies and studies. You may notice a change in sleeping and eating patterns, as well as irritability, mood swings, lying and truancy.

Where are kids getting this stuff?

Mostly, from adults' medicine cabinets. To avoid this, throw out all your old medications and always keep your current ones locked away from your kids.

Where can I get help?

Drug treatment centers are treating an increasing number of prescription drug addicts. In-house treatment can be expensive and usually is not covered by insurance, but you should check with your insurer to see if it is. Support groups like Narcotics Anonymous meetings may be a first good step.


Phone numbers to call for help

Pinellas, Pasco counties: Operation PAR, 1-888-PAR-NEXT. (1-888-727-6398)

Hillsborough County: Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office (DACCO): (813) 984-1818.

Hernando County: The Harbor Behavioral Health Care, (352) 544-6233, or Springbrook Hospital, (352) 596-4306.


Web site to visit

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration,

[Last modified February 18, 2008, 14:05:29]

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