Relying on prescription drugs can easily become drug addiction


Popping painkillers every day can be an indication that you have a drug addiction.

While many people become addicted to recreational drugs, it is also possible to become addicted to medications prescribed by your doctor.

With awareness on drug addiction this week, from June 10 to 26, the South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop) reports that there has been a 7% increase in admissions to rehabilitation for addiction to prescription drugs.

The abuse of pharmaceutical drugs for non-medical purposes has increased, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic due to the impact of lockdowns on global supply chains which have also affected illicit drug trafficking networks.

Pain management expert and Sasop member Dr. Shaquir Salduker says opiates are the most addictive substances known to mankind.

“The mere fact that these drugs are prescribed by doctors or stocked in pharmacies does not decrease the risk of addiction, nor are they less likely than street drugs to cause permanent long-term damage to brain function, to the overall mental and physical health of the individual, and the ability to be a productive member of society,” Salduker said.

Widely available over the counter for pain, coughs, colds and flu, codeine is the most widely used opiate in South Africa.

“Codeine, when swallowed, metabolizes into morphine, and morphine is a close chemical relative of opium and heroin. When an individual consumes large amounts of codeine, they are effectively consuming large amounts of morphine, with the same effect as heroin use,” he said, adding that overuse of prescription drugs can have long-term effects similar to those of “hard” drugs on brain function.

“Prescription drug dependence when an individual consumes the drug for non-medical reasons to the point of physical and psychological dependence affects the ability to function at work, socially, and in relationships.”

Mood, concentration and thinking skills are all affected, as well as your mental and physical health. In the long term, it can also lead to organ damage and risk of premature death from overdose.

Salduker said prescription drug addictions are difficult to identify because the drug is initially prescribed for a genuine medical reason and the addiction develops gradually over time. They are also more difficult to manage because the drugs are readily available and cheaper than illicit drugs.

“It is not uncommon for patients to self-medicate with over-the-counter medications [over-the-counter] or low-program codeine-containing drugs such as combination painkillers or cough mixes, and having developed an incredible level of tolerance.

While some may not be aware that their self-medication has reached the level of addiction, others border on the illegal by harassing doctors to dispense prescriptions without a diagnosis, persuading pharmacists to dispense without a prescription , “shopping at the doctor’s and shopping around the pharmacy”. , or even steal doctor’s prescription pads and forge doctor’s signature.

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