Prescription drugs are one of the most highly abused categories of substances in the United States. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 16 million people in the US reported using a prescription drug without a prescription or for a nonmedical purpose in the past year; about seven million reported doing so in the past month.
Unfortunately, the practice of using prescription drugs without a prescription or outside of the recommendation of a prescribing physician can have dangerous and even fatal results. Addiction, overdose, accident under the influence, and death are not uncommon.
NIDA reports that some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include:
- Opiates. Prescribed to help relieve chronic pain, these are perhaps the most commonly prescribed and abused prescription drugs.
- Depressants. Prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders as well as insomnia, barbiturates and benzodiazepines fall into this category, and both are highly addictive
- Stimulants. Prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity, or narcolepsy, many abuse these drugs with or without a prescription.
All of these prescription drugs have two things in common. First, they are all highly addictive. It is difficult for users to dabble in their use without repercussions, and any amount of regular use can lead to a physical tolerance that translates into a need for a higher dose in order to achieve the same effect.
Second, dependence upon all of these medications is highly treatable. Prescription drug addicts can safely undergo detox in order to stop taking the pills and then follow up with addiction therapy and treatment in order to remain drug-free for the long-term
Opiate medications, or prescription painkillers, are very commonly abused in the United States. Some of the most popular prescriptions include:
- Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin, Norco, Lortab)
- Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet)
These drugs may be ingested by swallowing, or by crushing them first then snorting the powder or dissolving the powder in water and injecting it. When under the influence, users often feel euphoric and sedated. They may also experience itching, nausea, constipation, sweating, and other side effects.
There are significant risks associated with use and abuse of opiate painkillers. Addiction can occur after a relatively short period of regular use, and taking too much of the medication can cause the heart rate to drop and breathing to stop completely.
Benzodiazepines (e.g., Ativan, Valium, Xanax), barbiturates (e.g., Nembutal, Seconal), and sleep medications (e.g., Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta) are all central nervous system (CNS) depressants. These drugs are abused by swallowing the pills, crushing the pills before snorting the resulting powder, or dissolving and injecting the drug. Use and abuse of these medications cause significant drowsiness, confusion, and impaired memory. Because they work by slowing the processes of the central nervous system, too much of these drugs can cause breathing to stop. Additionally, long-term use of the drugs can quickly lead to addiction.
Stimulant drugs – amphetamine (e.g., Adderall and dexedrine) or methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin and Concerta) – speed up body processes and create a high in the user. Like other prescription drugs, they are abused by swallowing large amounts of the pills, or crushing them before snorting or injecting the powder. They serve to increase focus and energy levels. Unfortunately, taking too much can increase the heart rate and blood pressure too much, causing stroke, seizures, or heart attack. Additionally, long-term use of these drugs can result in addiction.
A Deadly Risk
If your loved one is living with a dependence upon prescription drugs, waiting to begin treatment should not be an option. The best time to start on the journey to recovery is right now. Call now to connect with the best possible treatment program for your loved one’s needs.
Further Reading About What Are the Most Addictive Prescription Drugs?
David W. Newton is a board certified pharmacist and also has been a board member for boards of examiners for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy since 1983. His areas of expertise are primarily pharmaceuticals as well as cannabinoids. You can read an article about his expertise in CBD on the National Library of Medicine.
Reviewed by: Kim Chin and Marian Newton