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Alaska Prescription Drug Addiction
addict buying drugs to feed her opiate addiction

Alaska Prescription Drug Addiction

The increase in prescription drug addiction in Alaska, is reaching epidemic proportions. Alaska prescription drug addiction is responsible for more accidental drug overdoses than the number of heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.

What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Using any prescription medication for non-medical or recreational purposes, or taking medications intended for someone else, is considered drug abuse. Even if you have a prescription from your doctor for a medication, taking higher doses than the doctor prescribed is also drug abuse.

Statistics for Alaska Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

Abuse of prescription drugs is a major public health problem throughout Alaska. A report released by the Alaska Department of Public Safety, reveals that prescription opioid painkillers were a significant issue throughout 2014. Oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin) topped the list of seized prescription medications.

A report released by the Trust for America’s Health, indicates that the number of drug overdose deaths in Alaska in 2013 increased by 55% since 1999, with the vast majority of fatalities caused by abuse of prescription drugs.

Accidental overdose of prescription medications, accounts for more deaths in all of the United States than heroin and cocaine combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), national sales of prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999.

Common Drugs of Abuse

While there are thousands of different prescription medications, the three most commonly abused types of drugs include:

Opiates: prescription opiate painkillers are the most commonly abused medications in Alaska. The most frequently abused prescription opioid painkillers, are oxycodone (OxyContin) and hydrocodone (Vicodin).

On a molecular level, oxycodone is almost identical to heroin. Abusing prescription opioid medications has been linked in multiple studies as a precursor to heroin use. A large percentage of heroin addicts reported that their addiction to opioid drugs began with abusing prescription opioid medications.

Tolerance to opioid drugs develops quickly, and therefore the user will need to take higher doses to achieve the same effects. Taking higher dosages increases the risk of accidental overdose dramatically.

As the brain’s chemistry adapts to the presence of opioid drugs in the system, it loses the ability to function normally. Eventually, the brain is fooled into thinking it cannot produce dopamine naturally, unless the person takes more drugs. The person experiences overwhelming cravings to take more in order to continue functioning. At this point, the person is considered dependent on the medication.

Stimulants: the most commonly abused stimulant medications are amphetamines (Adderall), which are typically prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Other commonly abused prescription stimulants, include Ritalin or Concerta.

Stimulant drugs are designed to improve alertness, but when used for recreational purposes can cause devastating dependence. When the effects of stimulant drugs wear off, the user experiences the exact opposite effect than the drug caused. The user may feel exhausted, lethargic, depressed, and unusually irritable and aggressive. Some people may experience psychological symptoms of stimulant abuse, which include hallucinations, hostility, paranoia, delusions and psychosis.

The extreme withdrawal symptoms also include severe cravings to take more drugs, for which the user will do almost anything to get just to stop the horrible symptoms.

Tolerance to stimulants also develops quickly, with the user needing to take higher doses just to feel the effects of the drug. The result is a rapid spiral into addiction.

Sedatives: sedative/hypnotic drugs are also known as tranquilizers or downers, and have a depressant effect on the central nervous system. The most commonly abused sedatives are benzodiazepines (Xanax or Valium) and barbiturates (phenobarbital).

Sedative medications slow the brain’s activity, causing slowed breathing rate, lowered blood pressure, fatigue, slurred speech, and confusion. In higher doses, sedative medications can cause memory impairment, irritability, paranoia, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Treatment Options

Living in the grip of a prescription drug addiction can make a person feel powerless. Yet, with the right treatments, it is possible to break the cycle of addiction. The type of treatments needed will differ, depending on the type of drug being taken, the length of the addiction, the dosage being taken, and whether the person has any co-existing mental health issues that also need to be addressed.

Opioid Treatment: treating an addiction to prescription opioid medications is similar to treating heroin addiction. Treatment begins with a medically-supervised detoxification, which may require treatment medication, such as methadone or Suboxone. Over time, the dosage of treatment medication is tapered down until the person is eventually free of both drugs.

Intensive therapy and counseling is also required to correct the dysfunctional behaviors triggered within the brain caused by drug addiction. These are modified with positive habits and new coping skills for dealing with life’s stresses without the need for drugs.

Sedative Treatment: treating an addiction to sedative medication is challenging, as it can be extremely dangerous to stop taking sedative/hypnotics suddenly. It is important that the dosage of medication is tapered down slowly under medical supervision, as the person is weaned off the drug over a period of time.

Psychological counseling and therapy are required to address the severe depression and anxiety that many users experience during recovery. Group support meetings are also highly beneficial in treatment.

Stimulant Treatment: treating addiction to stimulant medication is complex, due to the severe changes in the brain that the drug causes. As the detox process can cause extreme psychological withdrawal symptoms, it is crucial that the person goes through the process under medical supervision.

Most users will experience profound depression and suicidal tendencies when withdrawing from stimulant abuse, therefore intense therapy and counseling are required. Some people may also display symptoms of aggression, violent behavior, and psychosis, and as a result, it is important that they are treated in a safe, secure environment where they will not pose a threat to themselves or to others.

Why Seek Treatment?

It is acknowledged that access to care in some parts of Alaska can be an issue. However, seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse and addiction is the first step to recovery. With the right combination of treatments and therapies, it is possible to live a healthy, productive life, free from substance abuse and addiction. Reach out to an addiction specialist in Alaska today to learn more about prescription drug addiction and the treatment options available.