A new study has found that addictions to over-the-counter (OTC) medications like ibuprofen and non-prescription painkillers may not be as uncommon as many think, sparking further investigations on the subject.
Medicine Cabinet Dangers
Niamh Fingleton, a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, has completed the initial phase of what is believed to be the first-ever study to measure statistics of OTC medication addiction. Approximately 972 people across the U.K. responded to questionnaires and had their answers recorded.
When Fingleton and her team analyzed the data, they found some concerning patterns, including:
- Approximately two percent of the respondents admitted to being either currently or previously addicted to non-prescription medication.
- Within the two percent, one person was hospitalized due to stomach erosion which occurred as a result of their addiction to ibuprofen.
- More than half of those who revealed their addiction said they had not sought any treatment for it.
"It’s important that we understand what helps and hinders people to seek treatment so that seeking help is easier for others in the future," said Fingleton. "Previous research has found that self-treatment is often unsuccessful, so it is important to use the help that is available."
The PhD student is now attempting to recruit current OTC addicts for the second phase of the study in order to determine why they are not seeking help for these issues.
A Dangerously Harmless Reputation
Although OTC medications have minimal to no side effects if taken properly, they can cause hallucinations and loss of motor skill functions when abused. In the case of medications that contain antihistamines or decongestants, taking high dosages over long periods of time can cause cardiovascular problems and even potentially fatal liver injuries.
The Health Behavior News Service also reported last summer that many teens are abusing these OTC substances as a means of self-medicating. A review that month from the Journal of Adolescent Health found that while teens who abused these medications thought they had a solid understanding of what they were consuming, they actually lacked knowledge about how to properly use OTC medications.
A Global Problem
The issue isn’t just limited to the U.K., though. A 2009 survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that over three million young people in the U.S. are abusing common cough and cold medications. Poison control center cases involving overdoses of Dextromethorphan, the main ingredient in these medications, increased sevenfold among 15 and 16-year-olds between 1999 and 2004.
Gateway to Illicit Drug Use?
These common medications are also regularly fused with prescription substances to create even more heightened addiction problems. Earlier this month, singer Chris Brown blamed his erratic and violent behavior on an addiction to a hood cocktail that fused with codeine-based cough syrup with Xanax and soda.
Some teenagers have also turned back to OTC medications after the prescription cough medicine commonly used for "Sizzurp," a combination of codeine cough syrup, hard candy and soda, was pulled from shelves last April.
Actavis,the pharmaceutical manufacturer of prescription cough syrup, ceased all production and sales of its Promethazine codeine products after several rappers, including Soulja Boy and Lil Wayne, posted photos of the bottles on their Instagram accounts and referred to it as "purple drank" or "lean."
Learn more about the types of drugs abused by adolescents and teenagers.
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