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Prescription Drug Addiction in New York


Most people think of drug addiction in terms of illegal street drugs, such as heroin, cocaine, or crystal meth. Yet, prescription drug addiction in New York is a serious rising health crisis, one many have called an epidemic. Although there are many patients who will take prescription drugs responsibly, there are also many who will not; these drugs, which were intended for helping people, can quickly fuel a dangerous and possible deadly addiction.

Oftentimes, people will assume that the legal nature of prescription medications constitutes them as safe, this is simply not the case. The misconception about medications not being as dangerous as illicit substances, leads many unsuspecting recreational users into the potentially life-threatening habit of prescription pill abuse. Prescription medications have the potential to be just as dangerous, or more dangerous, than illegal drugs found on the streets.

Admissions into rehab clinics for the treatment of prescription drug addiction in New York have grown significantly in recent years, and continue to increase. More alarmingly, misuse of prescription pharmaceuticals is responsible for more accidental deaths than any other substance related cause in the nation.

What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that taking any medication that was prescribed for someone else, taking higher doses than the doctor recommended, or taking prescription pills for recreational purposes ( aka to get high) is considered drug abuse.  Many abusers will take drugs intended for someone else because they do not fully understand the inherent dangers associated with pharmaceutical substances. Many prescription medications can be highly addictive. Therefore, using these drugs in any way other than what they were intended for is dangerous, and in some cases, fatal.

However, not all people who abuse prescription drugs do so with the intention of getting high. There are people who are given legitimate prescriptions to manage chronic pain or to relieve symptoms after major surgical procedures. Unfortunately, these people could unintentionally become addicted to painkillers.

Statistics Related to Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction in New York

  • Researchers at the Mayo Clinic report that almost 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug. More than 50% of Americans take more than two prescription medications.
  • 99% of the world’s hydrocodone (Vicodin) is consumed by Americans. 80% of the world’s oxycodone (OxyContin and Percocet) is consumed by Americans.
  • The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that prescription painkillers are responsible for more than 16,000 deaths each year and result in more than 475,000 emergency room visits. Approximately 50 Americans die every day from accidental overdose of prescription painkiller medications. The total number of accidental deaths caused by prescription painkillers is higher than the number caused by heroin, cocaine and meth combined.

Common Prescription Drugs of Abuse

The three most common prescription drugs of abuse are classified as opiates, sedatives and stimulants.



Opiate medications are synthetic opioids derived from opium and are usually used in prescription painkillers. Common examples of synthetic opioid medications are:

  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Many people who abuse opiate medications seek the euphoric feelings these substances can produce. What they may not realize is that heroin (diacetylmorphine) is also an opiate drug that was once a prescription medication used to treat acute pain.

Opiate painkillers work by stimulating the brain artificially to create endorphins, which are the body’s natural ‘feel-good’ hormones. Users experience an initial surge, or rush, followed by a sense of euphoria and a warm calmness that is almost dream-like. The memory of a pleasurable reward after taking opiate drugs is formed, leading many people to continue taking the medications. As a person takes more opiates, the brain begins to adjust. The result is that the person needs to take higher doses to achieve the same effects, which is known as tolerance.

Over time, the brain’s chemistry alters so that it is no longer able to produce endorphins on its own. The only way it can produce feel-good hormones is by the user taking more opiate drugs, which is known as dependence. When the person tries to stop taking drugs, the brain can’t cope with the lack of opiate input, so the user experiences terrible withdrawal symptoms. Some symptoms include excruciating abdominal cramps, bone and muscle aches, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, profuse sweating, depression, insomnia, suicidal thoughts and intense cravings to take more drugs.

Instead of taking opiates to feel good, the person now needs to take the drug out of fear in order to avoid the onset of negative withdrawal symptoms. The switch from taking drugs to feel good, to taking them to avoid negative symptoms associated with withdrawal is a common characteristic associated with addiction.



Sedative medications work by slowing down brain activity to induce a sense of relaxation or drowsiness. Many sedative drugs have legitimate medical purposes such as treating seizures, insomnia, anxiety disorders and some brain disorders.

However, using barbiturate sedative medications for recreational purposes or to get high can be dangerous. There is only a small difference between the desired dose and overdose. Taking even a small amount more than intended can result in coma, respiratory collapse (breathing stops), seizures and death. Withdrawal symptoms can be more severe than alcohol withdrawal and requires emergency medical attention.

By comparison, benzodiazepines won’t stop a person’s breathing like barbiturates, but they can cause psychological harm due to over-sedation. Withdrawal symptoms can be extremely unpleasant, but they’re not likely to be life-threatening for most people. Common benzodiazepine withdrawal symptoms include tremors, vivid nightmares, dangerously high fever, anxiety, increased heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and seizures.

Some commonly abused sedative medications include:


  • Amytal
  • Phenobarbital
  • Nembutal


  • Valium
  • Xanax
  • Ativan
  • Rohypnol

Sedative medications are central nervous system depressants. Combining any prescription drugs with alcohol can have devastating effects, as alcohol is also a central nervous system depressant.

As with opiate drugs, people abusing sedatives can quickly become addicted due to changes within the brain’s chemistry. Tolerance can develop relatively quickly. The person needs to take higher doses to achieve the same effects, which could result in accidental overdose.



Stimulant medications increase energy and alertness in users. Some prescription stimulant medications are used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and depression. Stimulants work by enhancing the effects of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. The result is a sense of euphoria, high energy levels, boosted confidence, and an artificially increased sense of well-being.

Some commonly abused prescription stimulant medications include:

  • Adderall
  • Ritalin
  • Dexedrine
  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine


Many people assume that prescription stimulants, such as Adderall or Ritalin, will be safer for them than illegal street drugs like cocaine or methamphetamine. Students use them in the false belief that it will improve their grades in school. What they may not realize is that cocaine and amphetamines are also strictly controlled prescription stimulant medications.

Stimulant drugs increase blood pressure, speed up the heartrate and elevate body temperature. They also increase alertness, decrease sleep and reduce appetite. Repeated abuse of stimulant medication can cause feelings of hostility and paranoia. Just as with other addictive prescription drugs, stimulants change the brain’s chemistry. Tolerance and dependence develop quickly, so the person needs to take higher doses just to avoid experiencing negative withdrawal symptoms.

The withdrawal symptoms associated with a stimulant dependency are not often physically threatening, as with opiates or sedatives. However, the psychological withdrawal symptoms can be devastating and include profound depression, aggression, paranoia, anxiety, and psychosis.


Treatment Options

Treating prescription drug addiction requires careful assessment of the patient before choosing the right course of action. The person needs to be evaluated for their own individual triggers for addiction, the drug of abuse, the severity of the addiction and the length of time they have been abusing drugs.

The first step in any drug addiction treatment is detoxification. The detox process often heralds the onset of nasty withdrawal symptoms. The person can be monitored and supervised by medical staff in a rehab center during the detox process to ensure safety. Medical staff may also administer other medications to treat any negative symptoms that may emerge.

When detox is complete, rehab therapy can commence to address the psychological side of the addiction. Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for teaching a recovering addict new coping strategies for living a life without drugs and forming positive new habits to replace self-destructive behaviors.

Research shows that rehab centers that focus on relapse prevention programs have a higher success rate for treating addiction. The person in recovery learns to identify addiction triggers and implement strategies to prevent relapsing to drug abuse.

Patients are also encouraged to participate regularly in a combination of therapies. Group meetings, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or SMART Recovery provide support and guidance from like-minded peers overcoming the same challenges. Physical therapy helps improve physical health, boost self-esteem, and teach the recovering person healthy ways to produce endorphins naturally without the need for drugs.

Why struggle with substance abuse on your own, when qualified help and ongoing support is available in the area. Prescription drug addiction treatment facilities in New York can give you or your loved one the fresh start you deserve. Take on addiction with confidence and contact a rehab in the state today.