A drug is defined according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary as a pharmacological substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment or prevention of disease. Drugs are natural or synthetic chemicals capable of altering or modifying the functioning of the body system for therapeutic purposes.
Prescription drugs fall into several categories: antibiotics used in the treatment of various infections; analgesics otherwise known as pain relievers; sedatives used in treating insomnia and antihypertensives for blood pressure lowering among others. More still, some pharmacologic agents are also classified as hard drugs. These are generally defined as substances with a high potential for abuse, severe addiction or death.
It is important to note that they may be legal or illegal depending on the circumstances surrounding their use. A few common examples include cocaine, heroin, marijuana (cannabis) and a host of others.
Furthermore, drug abuse or misuse simply refers to the consumption of illegal drugs or the inappropriate use of legal or prescription drugs. Obviously, it then follows that both prescription drugs (to be prescribed by the doctor) and nonprescription drugs (can be procured over the counter) may be abused or misused. Misuse of prescription drugs can be in the form of taking overdose or underdose of the prescribed medications both of which may have dire consequences. Arguably, drug abuse is fraught with several potential adverse effects. In this article, I intend to focus on some of the prescription drugs commonly abused by Nigerians and their potential adverse effects
This drug is definitely a household name. It comes in different popular brand names such as panadol, boska and M&B. Due to its analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory properties, paracetamol is widely used – and frequently abused – for the treatment of fever, headache as well as mild to moderate body aches. Although it is relatively safe especially when compared with most other pain killers, it is not without adverse effects mostly when consumed in excess. Evidently, the most dreaded adverse effect is hepatotoxicity (liver damage) and this may occur after the maximum recommended dose of 4g (8 tablets) is exceeded per day. The incidence of hepatotoxicity is even much higher among alcoholics. Some other adverse effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and rashes. In view of these, patients are usually advised to consult the doctor if symptoms persist despite taking paracetamol.
This is another widely abused drug in Nigeria. Popular brands include Alabukun and Phensic. Aspirin belongs to the group of drugs called Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which are often employed in the treatment of severe headaches (such as migraine), dysmenorrhoea (menstrual pain), rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and many other causes of pain. Other NSAIDs include ibuprofen, diclofenac, piroxicam (feldene), indometacin and so on. They act by inhibiting cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme which is involved in the production of prostaglandins that normally protect the epithelial lining of the stomach from acid secretion. Hence, the most common adverse effect of aspirin and other NSAIDs is peptic ulceration which is the reason why they should be avoided or used with caution by individuals with previous or active peptic ulcer disease. Furthermore, aspirin is contraindicated in children less than 16 years as it can lead to Reye syndrome in them (characterized by liver damage and encephalopathy).
Codeine is an opioid analgesic also used in the management of pain and diarrhoea. Like other opioids, it is widely abused because of its potential to produce euphoria (high mood) when consumed in large quantities. Hence, codeine abusers consume large quantities of codeine-containing cough syrups which ultimately leads to adverse effects like dependence, tolerance, sedation and euphoria. Other adverse effects may include constipation following prolonged use, dizziness, vomiting, headaches and dry mouth just to mention a few. Some other opioid analgesics which are also sometimes abused include morphine, pentazocine (fortwin), tramadol and pethidine. Also, they tend to cause respiratory depression in large doses.
Antibiotics such as tetracycline, metronidazole (flagyl) and ciprofloxacin (ciprotab) are equally victims of widespread abuse. For instance, ciprofloxacin is a fluoroquinolone with broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity variously used in the treatment of gastroenteritis (such as cholera and dysentery), typhoid, sexually transmitted infections (such as gonorrhoea and chancroid), skin infections as well as urinary tract infections. However, it’s not without adverse effects such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, dizziness and rashes among others. In addition, it is better to avoid it in children because of the risk of osteoarthropathy in the weight-bearing joints. Similarly, tetracyclines can cause tooth discoloration when taken by children under 8 years or pregnant women in the third trimester as well as breastfeeding mothers. Flagyl has been linked with adverse effects like loss of appetite, diarrhoea, vomiting, dizziness, headache, seizures, tremors and slurred speech.
These refer to drugs commonly used in the treatment of sleep and anxiety disorders. Some of the common examples are diazepam (valium), bromazepam (lexotan) and lorazepam. Unfortunately, a lot of people with sleep difficulties have become dependent on sleeping pills such that they can hardly sleep without them. However, prolonged use of these medications is not without adverse effects such as respiratory depression, confusion, tolerance, dependence, visual disturbances, reduced libido (sexual drive) and headache. Therefore, it is better to identify and treat the underlying cause of insomnia rather than take permanently to sleeping pills which may eventually become ineffective after some time.