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Misuse of legal drugs can have fatal results

Recent tragic incidents involving celebrities provide a perfect backdrop warning sound for people misusage of prescription drugs or over-the-counter medicines. These tragic events, some even resulting in death, have raised awareness of prescription medication addiction throughout the world. The perception that the use of prescription drugs is "legal" and "safer" than illegal substances is false and believing otherwise can be fatal.

In 2009, The Cove Center for Recovery analyzed autopsies relating to drug overdoes that were done in by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Medical Examiner's Office. The findings of just one state revealed a total of 670 deaths due to drug overdoses. Out of the 670 deaths, 508 were due to prescription drugs, 86 due to illicit (illegal) drugs and 76 that resulted from a combination of prescription and illegal drugs.

Whether taking prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs, people need to be aware of possible consequences potential result of taking a combination of drugs. Furthermore, taking a combination of drugs and including alcohol in the mix is like setting off dynamite. The Wellness Center of Santa Clara University in California stresses, "It is never possible to know for sure the effect that mixing alcohol with other drugs will have on a user. There are so many factors that affect the action of the drugs that it is impossible to accurately consider them all. They include, but are not limited to, the user's mood, body chemistry, other medications or illnesses, and psychological history. Even a medical professional would not be able to say for sure what the effect of an interaction will be."

After marijuana, prescription and nonmedical use of over-the-counter medication account for most of the commonly abused drugs. Studies done by National Institute of Drug Abuse show that about 7 Million Americans reported past-month use of prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in 2010. The three types of prescription drugs that are abused most often are:

— Opioids-prescribed for pain relief;

— CNS depressants-barbiturates and benzodiazepines prescribed for anxiety or sleep problems (often referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers);

— Stimulants-prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the sleep disorder narcolepsy, or obesity.

Don't abuse your prescriptions! These are steps to take to prevent abuse of prescription drugs:

— Ask your doctor or pharmacist about your medication, especially if you are unsure about its effects;

— Keep your doctor informed about all medications you are taking, including over-the-counter medications.

— Read the information your pharmacist provides before starting to take medications;

— Take your medication(s) as prescribed;

— Keep all prescription medications secured at all times and properly dispose of any unused medications.

Bottom line is this — If you think your drug use is out of control or is causing problems, get help. The sooner you seek help, the greater your chances are for a long-term recovery. Your family doctor may be a good place to start. This goes for those that are close to you as well. Get them to seek emergency help too! If you see a family member or someone close to you abusing the use of any type of drug, don't just ignore it!

Let's stop for a minute and take a closer look at these recent tragedies and learn from them. These recent tragic events are a warning sign to all of us. Prescription medications are drugs and they should be handled with extreme caution at all times. It is a matter of life and death! The life you save could be your very own.

Michael Fowler Sr., CFSP, is president of the Georgia Funeral Service Practitioners Association and is a retired death investigation specialist/forensic pathology assistant with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab.