Rise in prescription drug abuse alarms doctors

Obsession to pharmaceutical substances or narcotics or anxiety pills. (Representative Image

At least 14.5% of the patients admitted to Nimhans’s de-addiction centre have addiction to prescription drugs.

Among the 1,353 people admitted last year, 14.5% had addiction to pharma drugs, including opioids (tramadol, codeine, pentazocine) - both oral and injectable. Many were also hooked to benzodiazepines oral and injecting (lorazepam, alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam), and zolpidem.

Addiction to painkillers could become a pain, as evident from what happened to a family in the city. Shyam (name changed) was prescribed Tramadol after he had a surgical procedure. Tramadol should be injected in limited dosages only after prescription.

The husband died after accidentally injecting an overdose of the drug. Just as the family was recovering from the shock, the wife declared that she had been injecting the drug on herself and was unable to wean away from the addiction.

In recent times, psychologists in the city are handling more cases they dub pharmaceutical drug addiction.

The prescription drugs are easily available over the counter, cost less and could be accessed easily at home, which experts point as reasons for the recent shift in addiction patterns from narcotic to the prescription variety.

“In particular, addiction to pharma Opioid is on the increase,” said NIMHANS’ chief of de-addiction centre Dr Pratima Murthy, adding that people hook on to a wide variety of drugs from painkillers to sleeping pills, muscle relaxants and steroids.

“Tramadol is available in tablet and injectable forms. Withdrawal results in craving, abdominal cramps or loose motion,” she said.

The misuse of sleeping pills is quite common in the families, Dr Murthy said.

“If one is prescribed the sleeping pills, others in the family also use them. Withdrawal (due to addiction) would lead to cognitive issues and heavy dependency would lead to fits,” she added.

Dr Mahesh Gowda, managing director, Spandana Health Care said tramadol is common among students who came from the Middle East. “These are students pursuing pharma or dentistry courses,” he said. “Patients believe it aids in better sex and end up with addiction.”

Despite being a prescription drug, students said tramadol is available quite freely.

He said antispasmodic and painkiller usage is quite common among women who start taking them for leg pain, backache or menstrual cramps. “Out of 80 patients I see in a day, three are prescription drug abuse cases,” he said.

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