Overprescribing is a major issue in the medical world. Unfortunate statistics show that the number of patients receiving unnecessary prescriptions is rising. This growing problem leads to the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. A doctor might prescribe a drug. But it can still have the same addictive and damaging qualities as an illegal high.

If a person takes drugs beyond the instructions of their doctor, that is a problem. The situation can escalate to dependency and addiction. That might lead to people purchasing drugs online or buying them on the street. An individual might allow prescription drug abuse to spiral. But some responsibility always falls on the doctor.

Many people criticise medical professionals for giving out drugs too readily. Yet the situation is difficult for doctors. They cannot stop prescribing drugs that have legitimate treatment benefits for many patients. Plus, many doctors work under the pressure of bureaucracy, lacking time and resources. Then they too are victims of the medical and pharmaceutical system.

Some of the most abused prescription drugs are benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium. These are often prescribed for anxiety issues. They are addictive and easy to abuse. Benzodiazepines also demand a dangerous process of detoxification. This heightens their risk for addicts.

Opiates are also often abused, which are painkillers like Vicodin and Oxycontin. These are usually prescribed following a painful experience like surgery or an accident. They too are addictive due to their heroin-like effects.

These drugs do have legitimate purposes. Benzodiazepines help reduce excessive nerve activity in the brain. And opiates treat those suffering from pain and discomfort. They offer especially important relief to those who live with chronic pain conditions. But drugs are becoming more and more accessible through lax prescription rules. That means more and more people take them unnecessarily.

For example, there is a big problem with the abuse of benzodiazepines like Xanax in students. They might misuse their own prescription or illegally access drugs from other people. Some individuals who don’t suffer from anxiety might take the drug for its relaxing qualities. Even if they don't medically require it, they can still gain a sensation of intense calm. But using a prescription drug for its side effects is a slippery slope to addiction.

It is difficult to define overprescription due to the varying needs of each patient. There is no set amount or tolerance level. What might be an act of overprescription for one person might be the correct amount for another. But many people believe doctors are becoming less restrictive rather than more aware.

One argument for this is that there is too much pressure on the medical system. Often, doctors do not have enough time to fully gauge the needs of each individual patient. To keep up with their schedule, they must get through a certain amount of people a day. So then prescribing drugs can become something of a quick fix for a health complaint. Rather than a legitimate treatment.

Doctors might also be pressured to restrict the length of patient-doctor consultations. So people might not be aware of the risks of addiction that come with the drug they have just been prescribed. Again, this is not the fault of the doctors. It is the fault of the bureaucratic system that doesn’t allow the time and resources for individual care.

Another argument some have made is that doctors lack training in pharmacology. In one study, pharmacists monitored the prescriptions given in an average GP consultation. The pharmacists were able to prune 30-40% of the prescriptions offered to patients[1]. And the initial prescription is only half the problem. Short-term prescriptions might be necessary. But many patients stay on the drugs for much longer than required. A doctor might repeatedly prescribe a drug that is no longer necessary. This will only enable the dependency of the abuser.

For these reasons, stricter policies are being considered. An awareness of the dangers of overprescribing is growing. Pharmacists, doctors, and the medical community are engaging in the conversation. They know that more extensive pharmacology training would be a useful step forward for doctors.

Patient awareness around overprescription must also rise. Many underestimate the damage of drugs when given by a medical professional. If ordinary people know the damaging effects of prescription drugs, they can exercise caution. They might have an extended conversation with their doctor. They might double-check their dosages. They might take time to understand the risks of addiction. And, most importantly, they can learn to not take more drugs than the amount instructed by their doctor.

Other practical steps can be taken before larger administrative changes are made. For example, it is not necessary to prescribe two weeks’ worth of painkillers to somebody who has had their wisdom teeth removed. It is a procedure that can cause trauma to the body and a lot of pain afterwards. But the recovery period is only a few days. While painkillers might be necessary, an amount to cover more than two or three days is not. It might be simpler to prescribe a full bottle to a patient rather than a smaller number of individual pills. But these simple acts have lasting and harmful consequences.

Doctors could also practice suggesting alternative pain relief options. Especially for lower levels of discomfort. For example, they could recommend rest and herbal remedies for wisdom teeth pain. Not just immediately prescribe painkillers. It is also important for doctors to check the medical history of their patients. Those with a history of substance abuse might be more likely to abuse prescription drugs. In that case, if the prescription of painkillers is avoidable, it should be avoided.

Overprescription is a spiralling problem. A big part of the issue is that there is no single person or group of people to blame. It comes from a combination of factors. The medical community, the pharmaceutical industry, doctors, and patients all have a role. It can affect anyone, whether they suffer from a medical condition or not. It increases the accessibility of drugs. And it encourages the illegal selling of them on the black market. There is a growing awareness of the dangers of overprescribing. But the application of administrative change to make it more controlled still has a long way to go.