Drug Policy Alliance report revealed that between 1999 and 2007, the number of Texas deaths by accidental drug overdose increased by more than 250 percent, from 790 to 1,987.
This area is not immune to the problem, either, local officials said.
“In Nacogdoches and Deep East Texas, we are seeing young people who are abusing prescription drugs,” said Phyllis Grandgeorge, executive director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council of Deep East Texas. “It’s marijuana first and then prescription drug abuse among students in high school and among young adults who are 18 to 22. It’s a very serious issue throughout our area.”
The report further showed accidental poisoning, commonly due to the drug overdose, is the third-leading cause of injury-related deaths statewide, behind car crashes and suicide.
People tend to take more medication than necessary because the effects aren’t noticed in the desired time frame, they’ve ignored directions for the drug or combined it with alcohol, said Clare Waismann, a registered addiction specialist with The Waismann Method in California. When too much of a drug is ingested, the body reacts similarly to poisoning and tries to purge the toxic substance.
“The drug that is more used right now is OxyContin,” Kavin said. “If you figure that one little pill of 80 milligrams of OxyContin is equivalent to 15 Vicodin, that’s a big problem.”
Previously, if a patient took Vicodin or Lortab, they could take another five or six pills throughout the day. But with prescription medication becoming stronger and longer-lasting, people are noticing a deeper high and wanting more, she said.
Recognizing the problem
People who are addicted to prescription medication exhibit similar signs, and it’s easy for family and friends to see the problem, said Dr. Xiomara Velazco, Nacogdoches Medical Center internist.
“They get agitated if they don’t have their drugs; they get upset and very irritable,” Velazco said. “You have to see how they react around you and how needy they are of that medication.”
When their medication is the first thing they think of each day, and they can think of little else throughout the day, then there’s a problem, she said.
Someone seeking help has to actually want it, not want it because their family does, Grandgeorge said.
“Typically they get sick and tired of seeking out the drug, or something has interrupted their ability to get the medication, such as doctors ceasing to prescribe it,” she said. “Many people realize their family has deteriorated, and they’ve just burned all their bridges … and the family says, ‘Get help or have nothing to do with us anymore.'”
People are normally prescribed pain pills or sleeping aids for legitimate reasons. The problem comes when they are prescribed over a long period of time or when they’re abused, Kavin said.
“The prescribing physician needs to consider the amount and duration of drugs they’re giving to people,” she said. “You don’t want to prescribe a high dosage to a 34-year-old mother of four who drives her kids to school every day because she could suffer adverse effects similar to intoxication or drowsiness.”
For those who are taking medication, sticking to the prescribed dosage and schedule, and stopping use when the problem is gone or decreased significantly, is key, Grandgeorge said.
Also, refraining from the dangerous combination of alcohol and medication can keep people from accidentally overdosing or going into organ failure, she said.
“Labeling the patients as drug addicts just keep the patient from seeking help,” Kavin said. “Over 50 percent of our patients are chronic pain patients and are people who never took a drug to get high.”
Recognizing the problem and seeking help to reverse the chemical imbalance in the brain can bring people out of their addiction and help focus on the real problem, she said.
“I try to refer them, if it’s a pain that is uncontrollable, to a pain doctor where they have one person treating them, have access to other kinds of medications like injections or steroids, can get physical therapy or look at surgical options,” Velazco said. “You just have to refer them to the proper doctor to get them the proper help.”