We’re in the middle of the worst drug crisis in American history. As reported by the New York Times, in 2016 alone, more than 59,000 people died from drug overdoses, many of them from prescription opioids.

But a new study has revealed that a shocking number of people don’t know the signs of prescription drug abuse. 

Researchers at Michigan State University conducted a national survey and found that almost one third of respondents were unable to identify the signs of pill addiction.  Men and people in cities were particularly bad at knowing when something was wrong.

Symptoms of opioid abuse aren’t obvious (like the smell of alcohol or track marks, for instance) and can be easier to conceal. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, possible behavioral signs of addiction include mood swings, hostility, changes in energy level, and confusion or poor decision making.

Physical symptoms include a slowed breathing rate, drowsiness, poor coordination, and increased pain with higher doses.

Other signs are someone continually “losing” prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written or seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor.

Michigan State economics professor Mark Skidmore, director of behavioral-health organization CAPE and a co-investigator on the survey, said, “My sense is that people just don’t recognize the risk factor or take the necessary precautions to look at what’s happening. Loved ones around may not be watching whether or not a prescription is being followed.”

So what do the researchers suggest? 

In addition to knowing the signs of abuse, psychiatrist Jed Magen, a Michigan State professor who specializes in the psychological effects of opioid use, recommends that family members pay more attention to what’s being prescribed during medical visits. He also recommends staying connected to loved ones when they’re taking a prescription drug.

Education about addiction is also key. Almost 80 percent of survey respondents didn’t recognize prescription-drug abuse as a treatable problem. Worse, many said that if they did notice a loved one’s addiction, they were much more likely to recommend self-help strategies than professional help.

While the government, pharmaceutical and insurance companies grapple with the issue, what we can do is be more aware and to stay connected to the people around us. 

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