Numerous medications are misused to produce a high or other desired effect, but the most dangerous and commonly abused prescription drugs are benzodiazepines, stimulants and opioids.
Benzodiazepines or benzos are a group of drugs used to produce a calming effect. Also known as tranquilizers, well-known medications such as Valium, Xanax and Klonopin fall into this category. They are used to treat a variety of conditions from anxiety and insomnia to seizures and alcohol withdrawal, and as a result, are one of the most widely prescribed medications in the United States. Due to their effects and widespread availability, they are also one of the most commonly abused. Although the risk of overdose is low if used as directed, benzodiazepines are often taken with alcohol, opioids and other drugs to enhance their effects, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Benzodiazepines affect certain neurotransmitters in the brain, particularly gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), to produce muscle relaxant, sedative and hypnotic effects. Frequent use of benzodiazepines can lead to dependence and addiction, which results in uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal effects that can lead to seizures, tremors, hallucinations, psychosis and delusions. Without proper treatment, these symptoms can become life-threatening and require careful monitoring to ensure the drug is safely eliminated from the body. At Journey Hillside Tarzana, we provide around-the-clock medical supervision and comprehensive treatment for clients who are detoxing from benzodiazepines and other drugs. With an experienced support staff, dedicated medical team and access to care on a 24/7 basis, we are highly qualified to provide patients with a safe and comfortable detox experience that effectively addresses their unique needs.
Stimulants are known for their energizing effects and are often used to treat conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. The most popular prescription stimulant is the amphetamine Adderall, followed closely by Ritalin and Dexedrine. These drugs are chemically similar to methamphetamine and produce comparable effects, which include increased energy, an enhanced ability to focus and concentrate, decreased need for food or sleep, increased heart rate and a sense of euphoria. When used as directed, prescription stimulants can help those with ADHD and other conditions control their symptoms, but college students and young adults often abuse these drugs to stay awake longer, increase productivity or earn better grades.
When taken for a long period of time, prescription stimulants impair one’s ability to feel pleasure by impacting certain receptors in the brain. When entering treatment prescription stimulant addiction, individuals may have difficulty enjoying the hobbies and activities that once brought them happiness and often experience withdrawal symptoms similar to methamphetamine. This may include depression, anxiety, irritability, a lack of energy, trouble concentrating and more. At Journey Hillside Tarzana, our comprehensive recovery plans are deeply personalized to address these symptoms and include a variety of therapeutic and behavioral treatments that encompass each individual’s mental, emotional and physical needs as they progress through recovery. Our goal is to teach clients how to live and enjoy life without relying on stimulants while giving them the tools they need to achieve sustainable, long-term recovery.
Opioids are the most abused prescription medications in the United States and include both synthetic and semi-synthetic painkillers such as fentanyl, OxyContin and Vicodin. Prescription opioids work in the same way as illicit drugs such as heroin, binding to opioid receptors in the brain to induce feelings of warmth, well-being and euphoria. They also share many of the same side effects, such as slowed breathing, drowsiness, constipation and itchiness. If used for a long period of time, prescription opioids lead to physical dependency as the brain begins to rely on them to function properly. Even when taken as directed, tolerance and addiction can develop quickly as these drugs activate the same reward pathways as heroin or morphine and trigger cravings and withdrawal symptoms if use is stopped.
In the United States, the dangers of opioid drugs and the alarming rate at which they are being prescribed have created an epidemic that puts millions at risk of addiction, overdose and death. At Journey Hillside Tarzana, we understand that treating an opioid or prescription painkiller addiction has become more urgent than ever. Our dedicated team handles opioid-related withdrawal symptoms with expertise and utilizes an effective blend of evidence-based therapies, relapse prevention techniques and medication-assisted treatment to help clients achieve long-term recovery. Managing triggers, dealing with stressors, and eliminating cravings to reduce the risk of relapse or overdose is also an important part of our approach, helping patients maintain their sobriety long after treatment.
FENTANYL AND THE OPIOID EPIDEMIC
One of the most notorious and dangerous prescription drugs is fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that deserves special mention since it has contributed significantly to overdose-related deaths in the past few years. Synthesized in 1960 by Paul Janssen, fentanyl was created to be a safe, fast-acting and potent opioid that could be used as an anesthetic or to manage acute and chronic pain. Unlike other opioids, fentanyl is so strong that it could be absorbed through the skin, leading to the development of transdermal patches, films, “kid-friendly” lollipops, sprays and other novel ways of administering the drug.
Although the original production process was slow and difficult, copycat chemists soon began to streamline fentanyl synthesis so it could be illicitly produced. It didn’t take long for drug traffickers, dealers and others to discover the potential money that could be made from fentanyl. Since it is 100 times more potent than morphine and doesn’t require farmland or field workers, a single bag of fentanyl can net millions of dollars compared to other drugs.
Over the past few years, fentanyl has made its way into the drug supply to increase the value of illicit substances. Commonly pressed to look like legitimate prescription opioids or mixed with heroin to increase its potency, many users are unaware that they’re taking fentanyl. This has led to a surge in overdose-related deaths attributed to synthetic opioids across the U.S., increasing 264 percent from 2012 to 2015. Although the risks associated with opioid use were always high, the rise of fentanyl and the presence of counterfeit OxyContin and other pills have worsened the situation dramatically.