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Prescription Drugs

Prescription medication in the United States falls under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act defines what requires a prescription. General rule states that over-the-counter drugs (OTC) are used to treat conditions not necessarily requiring care from a health care professional and have been proven to meet higher safety standards for self-medication by patients. Lower strength drugs are approved for OTC use, while higher strengths require a prescription to be obtained.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use & Health, non-medical use means either taking a prescription medication without a prescription, or taking it more often than prescribed. It includes those who take prescription drugs to get high or to self-treat for withdrawal from illegal drugs. Abuse of prescription medication is at all-time high around the world; national statics show that in 2009 alone, 16 million Americans age 12 and older had taken a prescription pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant or sedative for non-medical purposes at least once.

Recent news stories have highlighted the increasing number of teens and adults abusing prescription drugs, particularly painkillers. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) published a study in late 2010 showing that treatment center admission rates for opiates other than heroin (like narcotic pain relievers) rose 345% from 1998-2008.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy states that prescription drugs account for the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines. Although many prescription drugs can be abused or misused, there are three classes of prescription medications that are most commonly abused.

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Classes

Opioids - Most often prescribed to treat pain.

Common Opioids Include:

  • Morphine
  • Oxycodone
  • Oxycontin
  • Percocet, Percodan
  • Darvon
  • Dilaudid
  • Demerol
  • Fentanyl
  • Codeine
  • Hydrocodone
  • Methadone

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants - Most often prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.

Common CNS Depressants Include:

  • Benzodiazepines

    • Xanax
    • Valium
    • Ativan
    • Klonopine
    • Librium
    • Rohypnol

  • Barbiturates

    • Amytal
    • Nembutal
    • Seconal
    • Quaalude

Stimulants Most often prescribed to treat narcolepsy, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and obesity.

Common Stimulants Include:

  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Ritalin

Years of research have shown that addiction to any drug, illicit or prescribed, can be effectively treated. Treatment must take into account the type of drug used and the needs of the addicted individual. Many types of prescription medication cause severe addiction when used over time. Withdrawal from the medication can be painful and dangerous. Detoxification in a hospital or inpatient rehabilitation setting may be needed to help stabilize the addict physically.




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