According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription drug abuse is killing more people each year than heroin and cocaine combined.
Labeling issues that prevent physicians from being able to recommend a specified length of treatment or maximum dosage are partly to blame, experts say, but recognizing prescription drug abuse is also the responsibility of patients and pharmacists.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), primary care physicians have a duty to screen for prescription drug abuse as part of their patients' yearly examinations. Doctors should look for the frequency of unscheduled refill requests, amount of medication taken and "doctor shopping" - where a patient attempts to get prescriptions from more than one provider.
"Preventing or stopping prescription drug abuse is an important part of patient care," NIDA states on their website. "However, healthcare providers should not avoid prescribing stimulants, CNS depressants, or opioid pain relievers if needed."
Self-diagnosing prescription drug abuse may be the hardest part, but patients should be aware if they are consistently upping their dosage, requesting refills that aren't medically necessary or using another's prescription drugs. Many people believe that because prescription drugs come from a doctor, they are safe - which becomes a justification for abusing them.
NIDA asserts that pharmacists can be "the first line of defense" against prescription drug abuse. Since pharmacists can watch for prescription falsifications or doctor shopping, they can assist doctors in identifying patients who may be abusing medication or getting prescriptions from more than one source.
Family and friends
Since the most commonly abuse prescription drugs are opioids, family members and friends may be able to identify a problem by watching a person's behavior. According to the Mayo Clinic, opioid abuse can cause depression, sluggishness, fatigue, confusion, sweating and poor coordination. Abuse of sedatives and anti-anxiety medications can cause drowsiness, poor judgment and dizziness. Stimulant abuse might cause weight loss, agitation, insomnia, high blood pressure or impulsive behavior.
Sources: NIDA, Mayo Clinic