Americans Don’t Know What to do When They Recognize the Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

Americans Don't Know What to do When They Recognize the Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse

In 2015, almost 19 million Americans ages 12 and above misused prescription medications. There is no denying this country is currently facing the deadliest and most concerning drug overdose epidemic in its history. Last year alone, drug overdoses claimed the lives of more than 59,000 people. Opioid addiction, in particular is the main culprit, with more than 20,000 overdose deaths linked to prescription painkillers, and nearly 13,000 heroin overdoses in 2015.

A new survey conducted by researchers at Michigan State University reveals that a even though the majority of respondents – 68 percent- were able to identify the signs of prescription drug abuse, an overwhelming majority -69 percent – could not identify how to effectively help someone who is abusing pills.

“My sense is that people just don’t recognize the risk factor or take the necessary precautions to look at what’s happening. Loved ones around may not be watching whether or not a prescription is being followed.”  Michigan State economics professor and co-investigator on the survey, Mark Skidmore, told New York Magazine.

The researchers note that being able to properly identify substance abuse can help people seek professional help earlier on. Unfortunately, the reality is that while many Americans associate substance abuse and addiction with biological causes, and support professional treatment options, the stigma associated with this behavior is still quite prevalent.

Can you Spot the Signs of Prescription Drug Abuse?

It may be difficult for some people to identify the signs and symptoms as some can be easily concealed from friends or family members. In fact, 4,600 survey respondents – a full 32 percent – could not correctly identify the signs of prescription drug abuse. In part, this could be because there are not necessarily any obvious signs of prescription pill abuse. Prescription opioids, in particular, do not have a scent such as weed or alcohol, and they are much easier to hide. Prescription drug abuse also does not leave physical signs on the body like heroin use leave track marks.

Some common signs that someone is misusing prescription medication include:

  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Excessive changes in mood or behavior
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Making poor decisions
  • Doctor shopping – seeking prescriptions from multiple doctors

The Stigma of Addiction

In the survey, respondents were asked a series of questions to help researchers determine whether or not the participants had a negative attitude toward other who displayed signs of prescription drug abuse, or if they saw negative attitude in their own communities. Researchers noted that the stigma associated with substance abuse is a huge barrier to effective and appropriate treatment because people feel too ashamed to share their symptoms and therefore are unable to receive the help they desperately need.

Survey data revealed that of the people who could identify signs of prescription drug abuse, 77 percent reported some personal stigma. Similarly, 78 percent of respondent who could not identify the signs reported some stigma. Researchers found that individuals who recognize the signs of prescription drug misuse were more likely to report stigma in their communities.

Some other survey findings showed that the following groups were less likely to identify signs of prescription drug misuse and more likely to report stigma:

  • Men
  • Respondents in urban areas
  • Younger respondents
  • Households with higher incomes

Helping Individuals who Struggle with Prescription Drug Abuse

Perhaps the most concerning revelation of this survey is the fact that so many respondents did not understand the importance of receiving professional help for substance abuse. Sixty-nine percent of those that were able to recognize the signs of prescription drug misuse recommended self-help strategies over professional drug treatment. On the other hand, the majority of people who did not recognize the signs – 62 percent – recommended professional help.

These number show that there is much to be done to reduce the stigma and increase knowledge and awareness about mental health and substance abuse disorders.

If you or someone you love is abusing prescription medications, it’s important to seek professional help before the problem gets worse. At Get Treatment, we can help you find a certified drug rehab center that provides individualized care and support for addiction recovery. To get started, call 855-638-9268 today, and speak to one of our caring admissions professionals.

Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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