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Prescription Drug Addiction in Oregon


Prescription drug addiction in Oregon is an increasingly problematic public health concern. The number of deaths caused by prescription drug addiction in Oregon now exceeds the number of overdose deaths caused by heroin and cocaine combined.


What Is Prescription Drug Abuse? 

Prescription drug abuse is the term used for taking any prescription medication in any way other than what the doctor prescribed. Taking larger doses than were prescribed or taking drugs intended for another person are both considered drug abuse.


Likewise, taking any prescription medication for recreational purposes, or to get high or stoned is also considered drug abuse.


Statistics for Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction in Oregon

A report released by the Oregon Public Health Division in March 2015 showed that 38 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2013 were the result of abusing prescription opioid painkillers, such as oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and methadone.


While most people associate drug overdoses with abusing illicit street drugs like heroin or cocaine, a massive 54 percent of the total hospitalizations for unintentional drug overdose were the result of prescription medications, including opioids, stimulants, psychotropic drugs, and sedatives.


The same report also revealed that the number of hospitalizations resulting from accidental prescription opioid painkiller overdose increased 285 percent in the years from 2000 to 2013.


Common Drugs of Abuse

While there are thousands of different prescription medications available, there are some common drugs of abuse. These include:


  • Opiates: Prescription opioid narcotics are commonly prescribed as painkillers to treat chronic or acute pain. Opioid medications are synthesized from the morphine or codeine molecules found in opium poppies and cause a sense of euphoria in higher doses.


Commonly abused prescription opioid medications include oxycodone (OxyContin or Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), fentanyl (Duragesic), codeine, morphine, and methadone.


Opioid narcotics work by binding to the brain’s opioid receptors to produce a sense of calmness and wellness, often accompanied by a warm, relaxed feeling that recreational users seek. Opioid medications artificially trigger the brain to release a flood of dopamine and serotonin into the body. The sensation creates a shortcut to the natural reward pathways in the brain that is stored into long-term memory.


Ongoing abuse of opioid drugs eventually tricks the brain into thinking that it can’t produce dopamine or serotonin naturally. The only way the user believes they can feel good at all is to continue abusing more drugs.


When usage of the drug stops suddenly, the brain is unable to adapt. The result is unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that the user will often try to stop by returning to a cycle of drug abuse.


  • Sedatives: Sedative medications are often also called hypnotics or tranquilizers, and are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, epilepsy, or sleeping disorders. There are two primary types of prescription sedative drugs that are most commonly abused. These include benzodiazepines (Xanax, Librium or Valium), imodazopyridines (Ambien or Zolpidem), and barbiturates (phenobarbital or Fioricet).


Sedative drugs are central nervous system depressants that effectively slow down brain functions. Tolerance to sedative/hypnotics develops quickly, so the user may feel the need to take higher doses to achieve the same effects that used to be achieved with smaller amounts, increasing the risk of overdose.


It’s extremely dangerous to stop taking sedative/hypnotic drugs suddenly, as the abrupt cessation could cause potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. It’s strongly advised that anyone struggling with addiction to sedative medications detoxes slowly by tapering down the dosage amounts over time under careful medical supervision.


  • Stimulants: Prescription stimulant medications act directly to stimulate the central nervous system, often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, or obesity. Commonly abused prescription stimulants include amphetamine (Adderall or Dexedrine).


It’s worth noting that cocaine is also a strictly controlled prescription stimulant medication.


Stimulants cause a recreational user to feel temporarily hyper-alert, more energetic and more confident. However, when the effects of the drug wear off, the user often experiences the exact opposite effects, including depression, excessive lethargy and mood swings.


Stimulant drugs work directly on the central nervous system to artificially trigger the brain to release a flood of dopamine and serotonin into the system. The drug also blocks the brain’s ability to recycle, or re-uptake, the excess hormones circulating in the system, causing an extended feeling of euphoria.


Studies show that repeated use of stimulant drugs can cause severe changes within the brain’s chemistry, so that the user loses the ability to feel any pleasure unless they continue taking more of the drug.


Stopping intake of stimulant medications suddenly can cause severe psychological withdrawal symptoms that may result in the user causing harm to themselves or others around them. It’s important that detoxing from stimulants is done under medical supervision.


Treatment Options for Prescription Drug Addiction in Oregon

  • Opioid Treatment: Treating an addiction to prescription opioid painkillers is very similar to treating heroin addiction. The recovering person must undergo a medically-monitored detox process to safely withdraw from the drug of addiction. Some patients may require assistance with replacement medications such as methadone or Suboxone to complete the detox process.


Detox alone will not cure an addiction. It merely breaks the body’s physical dependency on the drug, but does nothing to address the psychological side of the addiction. Intensive psychotherapy and counseling are also required, along with cognitive behavioral therapy to correct the dysfunctional behaviors surrounding addictive drug use.


  • Sedative Treatment: Treatment for sedative addiction should be conducted under medical supervision, as it’s important that the dosage of the drug is tapered down over a period of time. There are no RDA-approved prescription medications to treat sedative addiction.


The intense psychological cravings for sedative drugs can continue for several months, which increases the recovering person’s risk of relapsing back into a pattern of drug abuse. For this reason, it’s advised that intensive rehab and counseling commence to address the psychological side of the addiction.  


  • Stimulant Treatment: Many people mistakenly believe that detoxing from stimulant drugs won’t cause any withdrawal symptoms. While the physical symptoms of withdrawal may be relatively mild, the intense psychological symptoms can be excruciatingly painful to endure.


In an effort to make the psychological symptoms stop, many users relapse back into addictive drug use, increasing the risk of accidental overdose. Treating a stimulant addiction requires medical supervision to ensure the person’s safety, as many recovering people experience profound depression and strong suicidal thoughts. Others may experience symptoms that include psychosis, violent behavior, delusions and hallucinations.


Prescription medications may be administered to treat some withdrawal symptoms, including antidepressants and anticonvulsants. Intensive counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy are required to address the dysfunctional attitudes behind the drug abuse and to replace self-destructive habits with positive new coping skills for living a sober life.


Importance of Professional Drug Treatment

There’s no need to continue struggling with a drug abuse disorder, especially when there is so much professional treatment and assistance available. If you are struggling with prescription drug addiction in Oregon, the first step to recovery is reaching out to an addiction specialist for help. With the right combination of treatments, it really is possible to regain control over your life and live a healthy, productive, sober lifestyle.