You might have seen the recent media reports, on the growing problem of prescription drug dependence. Often when we talk about drug dependence, we picture younger people, poor lifestyle decisions, and illegal drugs. However, a growing number of older Americans are also developing dependence upon prescription medications.
This is not a problem limited to the poor, the uneducated, or those who make questionable personal decisions. Because of the way medications work in our bodies, it is possible for anyone to develop a tolerance to a perfectly legal and necessary prescription drug. Once that tolerance is developed, the patient needs continually higher doses in order to achieve the same effects. Over time, the individual might begin to suffer side effects of their dependence, or move on to other substances to achieve the same “results”.
This information isn’t meant to alarm you, or to persuade you against taking necessary prescription medications. There will be times when medications are absolutely needed in order to treat a medical condition or pain (usually resulting from an injury or surgery, but also from ongoing conditions such as arthritis). Awareness is the key to avoiding a drug dependence. Take the following steps any time you are prescribed a medication.
Communicate with your doctor. He or she needs to know everything about your symptoms, lifestyle, and other medications in order to prescribe you the right drug. Ask if there are more natural alternatives or other ways to manage pain and other medical symptoms.
Check in regularly. Share your concerns with your doctor, if the medication seems to stop working as well or you’re concerned about side effects.
Never alter your dosage without guidance. Don’t increase your dosage if you feel that a medication isn’t working well anymore. It might be better to change medications, rather than continually increase the dosage and risk dependence.
Don’t accept medications from family or friends. They mean well, but don’t take someone else’s prescription medication if offered. Call your doctor if you feel your needs have changed.
Familiarize yourself with potential side effects. Read the information included with your prescription, and report any possible side effects to your doctor immediately.
Purchase from a trustworthy pharmacy. Many online pharmacies are safe to use, but there are some shady ones out there. Ask your doctor if you aren’t sure of a website’s reputation. Some (particularly those overseas) are selling phony medications, so you can’t be sure of what you’re getting.
And of course, if you suspect a developing drug dependence in your spouse, talk to their doctor. Privacy laws might prevent the doctor from sharing information in return, but he or she can speak to your spouse or be on alert for dangerous behavior.