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The reality of prescription drug addiction in women

Jessica Padykula is a freelance writer and editor in Toronto, Canada covering a wide range of  topics for several online lifestyle publications. She is a regular contributor for SheKnows, covering travel, style, relationships, health and...

The dangers of RX drug addiction

When you think of addiction, what comes to mind? Likely not women just like you, going about their day yet being totally dependent on a prescription medication.
Woman looking at pills

Alarmingly, overdoses are becoming rampant among women, and according to recent statistics, 18 women die every day from a prescription drug overdose. We have the scoop on this shift in addiction and how it’s affecting women.

Women and prescription drugs

"The increase in women not only getting addicted to prescription pain pills but also dying as a result is truly alarming," says Tammy Strickling, CEO of Suncoast Rehab Center, a nonprofit drug and alcohol rehabilitation organization. "In addition to prescription medication being easy to get, women are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, pain from migraines and hormone imbalances, and are more likely to get prescribed medications by their doctors than men," she explains. Add the stress many women are under to wear multiple hats — caregiver, chauffeur, cook, housekeeper, etc. — and the pill that helps make them feel even a little bit better starts to become a crutch. That’s where the problem can get out of hand, notes Strickling. "One can lose track of how much is being taken and in what combination, and the results are dangerous."

Kent Runyon, executive director of Novus Medical Detox, agrees that statistically, women seek medical care at a higher rate than men and are prescribed more medication than men. "This greatly increases their exposure and risk to prescription drug addiction," he affirms.

The shift in Rx drug addiction

pill bottle

Drug addiction used to mean cocaine, heroin, crack — the hard drugs done in shady night clubs, back alleys and other secret locales no one wants to think about — but prescription drugs are now a concern as well. "Prescription drug addiction has moved from being a problem to becoming an epidemic. It is impacting American families throughout the United States," says Runyon. "Our children are increasingly using and abusing prescription drugs. Moms and dads are increasingly abusing prescription drugs, and recently we had an elderly grandmother who was addicted to an opiate pain-killer and had to come in for detox."

One of the reasons behind this epidemic is the ease with which you can get a pill for almost anything. "Prescription drugs have continually been deemed more appropriate for greater numbers of issues, for more and more people of wider and wider demographics, to the point where almost anyone with any ailment at any age is a candidate," affirms Strickling. For example, decades ago oxycodone was used for severe pain for cancer patients. Now people with only moderate pain can get a prescription for it. "I am continually shocked and dismayed by the 'doctor shopping' and pain management clinics that seem to have no standard policies and procedures covering prescribing highly addictive substances" she says. "People can get refill after refill of hundreds of pills at a time without even an office visit, much less an X-ray, MRI, etc., to validate a medical condition."

Side effects of Rx drug addiction

Though popping a pill for stress, pain or other issues might seem totally harmless, it’s not. "Few people realize that prescription drugs have become a leading cause of death, disease and disability," Strickling notes. "The health effects of prescription stimulants include irregular heartbeats, dangerously high body temperature resulting in seizures, dangerously high blood pressure and heart failure. Prescription sedative effects include drowsiness, and dangerously slow heart rate and respiration, which can result in a coma and be fatal," she explains.

Runyon’s patients are frequently dehydrated, malnourished and suffering from sleep deprivation due to prescription drug addiction. "This takes a toll on the entire body and is compounded by the sometimes serious damage that can be done to the body’s organs and brain as a result of long-term drug abuse," he says.

Keys to prevention

One of the keys to preventing prescription drug addiction is the understanding that drugs aren’t meant to be long-term solutions. "Drugs may help an ailment, a pain, as a temporary solution after surgery, for example, but drugs were never meant to be used long term or for life," says Strickling. "Drugs do not solve the underlying and source problems. Drugs are taken to address a symptom, and that symptom stems from an underlying problem that needs to be confronted and solved," she explains. "There are alternatives to every problem and every symptom."

Runyon adds that educating ourselves is paramount. "It is important that as a society we begin to question every prescription we are encouraged to consume. We need to read the warning labels, ask our doctors about the risks of addiction and strategies to get off the prescription, and seek alternatives to addictive prescriptions," he says.

Another important aspect of prevention and healing is making sure people know they can get help if they are concerned about getting too dependent on a medication. "We need to educate people who are struggling with addiction that there are places that can help them. So many people come to our center saying that they had not come for help sooner out of fear of judgment and/or fear of the withdrawal symptoms," explains Runyon. "Novus Detox Center prides itself on its caring and competent medical staff, who provide a detox experience that is without judgment."

Detox and rehabilitation

Detox and rehab go hand in hand, but Strickling warns that detox alone can’t solve the underlying addiction issues. "I have seen clients attempt to use detox as rehabilitation, and it’s a mistake to do so because most often detox is not enough," she says. "A client can get caught up in the repeat visits to a local detox as a quick fix instead of completing rehab, which is an effective and long-term solution to remaining drug-free."

When it comes to detox, however, Runyon says the biggest reason people don't come for help is fear of life without the substance. "Every person who is suffering from addiction knows what the pain of withdrawal is like, but a quality medical detox center such at Novus can remove this fear," he explains. "We effectively get the patient medically removed from the substance without the suffering. We treat every patient with dignity and help them see that there can be life without the drug."

Following detox, a good treatment program will address the physical, mental, emotional and behavioral aspects of addiction, says Strickling. "It will send the person back into life with tools and coping skills to stay drug-free and lead a happy and healthy life."

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