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May 4, 2014 | by  | in Opinion |
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Prescription Drugs – Use or Abuse?

At Student Health, we commonly see patients in various degrees of distress. The combined stressors of study, jobs and relationships can lead to poor sleep, anxiety, low mood, and depression. There are often negative consequences on study – with poor concentration and fatigue leading to slipping grades.

Although most patients don’t ask for medication during stressful times, some do – and very often their request will be turned down. The drugs available that can help in these situations carry with them some serious negative effects, that can far outlast any benefit they may bring.

The groups of drugs we are talking about include:

  • Benzodiazepines: Commonly known as ‘benzos’, this group of drugs includes temazepam, diazepam (Valium), and lorazepam. Benzos work on the GABA receptors in the brain, creating a calming effect. Patients describe sleepiness, anxiety reduction and muscle relaxation when they take benzos – the effects can last from a few hours to almost a day, depending on which drug is used.

  • Zopiclone (Imovane): Also works by increasing levels of GABA in the brain. Zopiclone is prescribed as a night sedative, for people who have insomnia.

  • Methylphenidate (known as Ritalin/Rubifen): It is actually a stimulant of the central nervous system. It helps to focus attention and shut out distraction. It is used to treat ADHD, and occasionally a rare sleep disorder called narcolepsy. If used correctly, it can restore an inattentive person’s functioning to expected normal levels.

Although benzodiazepines and zopiclone can be helpful when used correctly, they are highly addictive, and regular use over as little as two to four weeks can result in dependence and problems withdrawing. Regular use may also lead to an exacerbation of your original symptoms, meaning you may feel worse than before you took them. Because of this risk, doctors are loathe to prescribe them other than in very short courses. They can interact with other drugs, including alcohol and antidepressants, with unpredictable and dangerous results, and accidental overdose can result in respiratory depression and death.

Methylphenidate is similarly dangerous when used without a prescription. Taking too much will result in a hazardous amphetamine-like effect, and can bring on serious psychiatric effects, similar to those seen in acute schizophrenia.

Although medications clearly have a place, abuse of prescription drugs is not a smart option. Abuse includes:

  • Taking more of a drug, or more often, than prescribed;

  • Using the drug for a condition other than one it was prescribed to treat;

  • Using someone else’s drugs;

  • Giving/selling your prescribed medication to someone else.

Abuse carries huge risks. There are always other choices, and safer long-term medication is available.

If you are concerned that you or someone you know has been abusing medication, talk to someone at Student Health, or contact the Community Alcohol Drug Service on (04) 845 1818 or  http://www.cads.org.nz/.

 

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