03 September 2010
By Revathi Ramanan
Even people taking over–the–counter drugs are now turning addicts
S Sujatha (26) (name changed) started taking spasmo proxyvon, an anti spasmodic, for her menstrual cramps two years ago. "I started taking it at the suggestion of a friend and liked it because of the immediate relief it gave me," she says. After a point of time, even when she was not in pain and not menstruating, she would consume the drug. "I started getting irritable when I didn’t take the drug," says Sujatha who is being treated at one of the de–addiction centres in the city.
"Popping an aspirin while having a headache is common, but doing it over a long time could make you an addict. We have been seeing quite a few such cases," says Dr Anitha Rao director, medical services at the de–addiction centre attached to the TTK Ranganathan Hospital.
Over–the–counter drugs which people take for common ailments like headache, cramps and sleeplessness could cause addiction if taken without the advice of a registered medical practitioner, says S Arivudai Nambi, director of Wisdom Hospitals, a de–addiction and psychiatry management hospital in the city.
Drugs like codeine, cyclopam, aspirin, spasmo proxyvon, acetaminophen, opoids, zolpidem, ephedrine and other painkillers are some of the drugs used in day–to–day life that could cause addiction if not taken in the right quantity, say doctors working with addicts.
"It takes only three days for the system to get addicted to a drug. So any person who has been taking a drug without prescription for three consecutive days is at the risk of getting addicted," says Nambi.
Dr C Anbudurai, a psychiatrist who counsels victims at Wisdom Hospital, says addiction can be triggered by physiological or psychological reasons. "When the addiction is psychological, the person feels the need to keep popping pills even though he/ she is fine. Physiological addiction is usually characterised by withdrawal symptoms like sweating, vomiting, sleeplessness and depression.
Psychological cases like dependence on aspirin are more difficult to treat," he says. Experts say the problem gets compounded when unqualified pharmacists behind the counter give people drugs without knowing fully about the effects. "More awareness has to be created about over–the– counter drug abuse in India," says Dr Rajesh Menon, director of Turning Point, a de–addiction centre.
Ascertaining the extent of abuse is the first step of treatment, says Dr Rao. "Sometimes the abuse could be extensive and could have damaged the stomach lining, liver and other organs, while in some other cases it could be only psychological," she says. This is followed by a seven–day detoxification process which varies from drug to drug, personality check, psychotherapy, lecture sessions and group therapy. After rehabilitation, it is followed up for a few years.
Addicts are also encouraged to attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings where they interact with other addicts and share their experiences. "Regular follow–up is very important, especially in the cases where the reason of addiction is psychological. We have seen cases of relapse in the absence of follow up," says Anbudurai.
Look Before You Pop
Use | Anti–allergic Result of abuse | Fits, high fever, anaemia, agranulocytosis (absence of white blood cells) Addiction can cause | Lack of concentration, continuous obsession about the drug
Use | Pain–killer, bloodthinner Result of abuse | Stomach ulcers, hallucination, incoherent speech, disorientation and paranoia Withdrawal symptoms | Dangerous because of no other symptoms than the urge to take the pill for every small pain
Use | Painkiller Result of abuse | Dry mouth, dizziness, nervousness, may affect liver Withdrawal symptoms | Behavioural changes, unmanageability, mood swings
Use: Anti–depressant, used to treat anxiety and insomnia Result of abuse | Abdominal pain, cramps, dry mouth, headache Withdrawal symptoms | Acute fear of being alone, mood swings, behavioural changes