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Prescription Drugs

Home Drug Abuse and Addiction Prescription Drugs

Written by: Editorial Staff.

What is Prescription Drug?

Prescription medication/drug in the United States falls under the regulation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), while the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act define what requires a prescription.

The 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.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription Drug Abuse

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 an 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.

Abuse Among Teens

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.

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

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. The most commonly abused prescription classes include the following:

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

Signs And Symptoms Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Symptoms Of Prescription Drug Abuse

Signs of abuse vary from person to person and also on the abused drug.

Opioid Abuse

A person who abuses opioids may have:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Upset stomach, vomiting, or constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Poor coordination
  • Mood changes
  • Slurred speech
  • Depression or anxiety

Depressants Abuse

Excessive use of CNS depressants can cause:

  • Mood swings
  • Walking problems
  • Concentration problems
  • Poor decision making
  • Poor speech
  • Memory problems
  • Slow reflexes
  • Slow breathing

Stimulant Abuse

Signs of stimulant abuse include:

  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Weight loss and lack of appetite
  • Nervousness
  • High blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Uneven pulse
  • Paranoia


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.