5th January 2016

Ask Dr. Harry: Prescription Drug Addiction

Dr. Harry Haroutunian served as Physician Director of the Professionals Program at the Betty Ford Center. Known as Dr. Harry by patients and alumni, he is the author of “Being Sober: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting To, Getting Through and Living in Recovery,” and co-author of “Hijacking the Brain: How Drug and Alcohol Addiction Hijacks our Brains – The Science behind Twelve-Step Recovery.” Dr. Harry earned his medical degree from Albany Medical College of Union University in Albany, New York, and is board certified in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine. His new book, titled “Not As Prescribed” addresses the topic of older adults and addiction.

Q: When does a prescription become a problem?

A: The use of painkillers such as OxyContin or Percocet (both forms of Oxycodone) may have started innocently after surgery, after breaking a bone or when diagnosed with chronic pain, and the patient found that they liked the blissful and pain-free feeling.

People addicted to mood-altering prescription drugs have, what I call, opioid-induced dyslexia. This is a term used to describe an interesting phenomenon that occurs when the prescription directions state: “Take one to two pills every four to six hours,” and that quickly escalates to taking four to six pills every one to two hours. Overdose or lethal combinations of these drugs can lead to emergency room visits for cardiac arrhythmia, respiratory depression, cardiac arrest or aspiration, and death.

Prescription drug abuse is a national crisis in this country, and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has declared it an epidemic. For medical teams on the front lines in emergency centers, it is not uncommon to admit patients who have mixed alcohol with prescription painkillers. Most overdoses can happen with such combinations and are not always associated with intravenous drug use. In 2008, an estimated 25 percent of 18- to 25-year olds abused prescription opioids. The sad truth is that now we talk in terms of 12- to 17-year olds having similar numbers.

Q: How do I know if my college-age son has a problem with drugs?

A: While there is no easy answer to this question, there are steps you can take as a parent. First, because you know your child best, act on your instincts. Watch his behaviors; is he isolating from family or old friends or sneaking around? Although these behaviors may apply to teens as a whole, they certainly apply to those young adults who are experimenting with alcohol or other drugs. There is no way you can check him all the time; however, you can be a guardian of good behavior and good companions. Talk to your son and ask for permission to be in his space — and then let him know the reason for this request: to ensure his safety.

If possible, get to know his friends and where your son is when he’s out. If your son is living at home, make sure the rules of your home are followed. Other steps may include contacting the school that he is attending and voicing your concerns, and, if necessary, intervening with your spouse/partner on your son’s activities or questionable behaviors.

Q: How do I get help for my college-age child?

A: Check with your child’s college and physician.  Today there are numerous resources available both on campus and online that provide information and assistance.

Source: USA Today