Archives for Abuse and diversion
Most psychiatric drugs bear some version of the warning: "Do not drink alcoholic beverages when taking this medication." In reality, though, many people taking psych meds drink anyway. They have various reasons: not wanting to curtail their fun, not putting much stock in the warnings, or simply thinking it's easier to take a proffered drink than explain why they're turning it down. Doctors oftentimes don't bother to talk to patients about potential dangers. Or they tell patients not to drink, but don't explain why. To make matters worse, because of a lack of studies on the subject, patients inclined to do their own research will have a hard time just how risky it is to drink while taking various kinds of psychiatric medications (I've written elsewhere about this troubling lack of evidence). A widely publicized study that came out last month in the journal Neurology underscores the problem. The findings, which pooled data from 16 studies, showed that people taking SSRI antidepressants like Zoloft or Celexa were 40 percent more likely to suffer a type of stroke caused by bleeding in the brain and 50 percent more likely to suffer any bleeding in the skull.
A recent article in USA Today about the challenges of dealing with ADHD at college suggested students keep their conditions - and their prescriptions - secret from their peers. The reason? Abuse of stimulant medications like Adderall and Ritalin is rampant on college campuses, where the medications are used as "study drugs" and also to provide a boost of energy during long nights of drinking and partying. As a result, students with such prescriptions can find themselves under intense pressure to share or sell their pills. But when students keep their meds a secret from peers, does anyone actually benefit?
With all the attention on the misuse of psychiatric drugs, I think it's worth taking a look at how the increased scrutiny affects people who have a diagnosis and a legitimate prescription. I don't mean to suggest that just because someone has been diagnosed and a doctor has seen fit to prescribe her medication that she necessarily needs the meds - or even that she "should" be on them. Plenty of people have unjustified diagnoses and unneeded prescriptions. But for those who do benefit from treatment, you've got to wonder how all the media attention affects their experience.
What do you do when the drugstore is out of your medication refills? Well, if you've remembered to refill before you've run out entirely, it's usually no big deal - you can wait or go elsewhere. The problems come when the drug is a) a controlled substance and b) the powers that be have controlled availability of the active ingredient a little too zealously, so that it's in short supply, even for the pharmacies. This is the problem causing millions of people a lot of angst as they try to procure their stimulant drugs for ADHD in the face of a continuing national shortage.