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Prescription Drug Abuse: A Pharmacist’s View

by Roni Shye on November 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Controlled substances and prescription drug abuse have been increasingly under the spotlight. This has been fueled, in particular, by overuse of drug such as opioids. Opioids are used as painkillers and include hydrocodone, oxycodone, hydromorphone, and morphine. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are among the top most abused prescription drugs.

The numbers:

Overdose is the second leading causing of accidental death in the United States, with an estimated 16,600 deaths from overdose in 2010. This is a substantial increase from an estimated 4000 deaths in 1999. It is also estimated that there are more then 2.4 million people that abuse opioids, with 200,000 emergency room visits per year due to prescription drug misuse.

What is the role of the pharmacist?

Under current laws, pharmacists must review and evaluate each controlled substance prescription. This means that each time a prescription is brought in, a pharmacist will look at the dose, dispensing pattern and clinical utility of the medication. In many states, pharmacists also have access to state controlled-substance files that collect dispensing history. A pharmacist can even reserve the right to refuse to fill a prescription if certain criteria are not met. In most cases, pharmacists will also not dispense controlled medication earlier than needed.

Steps are also being taken from a regulatory standpoint. Distribution of controlled substances is tightly regulated. The FDA has also taken measures, such as limiting acetaminophen doses in prescription drugs, and recently proposing that hydrocodone combinations be made Schedule II medications.

What can you do?
  •  Use medications only as directed by your prescriber.

  •  For short term treatments use your medication only as needed and for the shortest time possible.

  •  Talk about the risk and benefits of your prescription with your health care provider or pharmacist.

  •  Discuss all medications you are taking with your provider or pharmacist.

  •  Do not share or sell unused medications, and appropriately dispose of any leftover medication as soon as treatment is completed.

  •  Avoid combining different controlled substances at one time.

What resources are available?

If you or someone you know are having issues with substance abuse, there are resources available:

  •  Speak to your health care provider—many treatment options are available. This includes counseling, medications that decrease withdrawal and other coping mechanisms.

  •  Seek assistance from community-based groups.

  •  Call the national substance abuse helpline (1-800-662-HELP) or visit the National Institute of Drug Abuse website at

The GoodRx Pharmacist

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