Prescription drug abuse means taking a prescription medication that is not prescribed for you, or taking it for reasons or in dosages other than as prescribed. Abuse of prescription drugs can produce serious health effects, including addiction. Commonly abused classes of prescription medications include opioids (prescribed for pain), central nervous system depressants (prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders), and stimulants (prescribed for ADHD and narcolepsy). Opioids include hydrocodone (Vicodin®), oxycodone (OxyContin®), propoxyphene (Darvon®), hydromorphone (Dilaudid®), meperidine (Demerol®), and diphenoxylate (Lomotil®). Central nervous system depressants include barbiturates such as pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal®), and benzodiazepines such as diazepam (Valium®) and alprazolam (Xanax®). Stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®), methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®), and amphetamines (Adderall®).
Long-term use of opioids or central nervous system depressants can lead to physical dependence and addiction. Opioids can produce drowsiness and constipation and, depending on the amount taken, can depress breathing. Central nervous system depressants slow down brain function; if combined with other medications that cause drowsiness, or with alcohol, heart rate and respiration can slow down dangerously. Taken repeatedly or in high doses, stimulants can cause anxiety, paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, irregular heartbeat, or seizures.
There is a common misperception, especially among younger people, that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs. Most people don’t lock up their prescription medications, nor do they discard them when they are no longer needed for their intended use, making them vulnerable to theft or misuse. Many people are prescribed addictive drugs for use as painkillers after a surgical procedure or the like. Often, the patient becomes accustomed to the sense of relief he feels when he takes these drugs and becomes reliant on them even when they are no longer needed for the reason prescribed.
Because prescription medications are prescribed by doctors, they are readily available to people that want to misuse them. In a study of students in Wisconsin and Minnesota, 34 percent of kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) said they had been approached to sell or trade their Ritalin or Adderall, two drugs commonly used to treat symptoms of ADHD.
Painkillers are particularly dangerous because they depress the central nervous system, slowing down breathing and the brain stem’s responsiveness to CO2 to the point where someone abusing these medications can simply stop breathing. Combine these painkillers with alcohol, another depressant, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Abuse of prescription drugs is an extremely serious matter and is equivalent in severity as an addiction to illicit drugs. Do not let the name “prescription” fool you. If you are having problems surrounding your use of prescription drugs, get help today!