Prescription drug abuse is when someone takes a medication intended for someone else or when someone uses a medication in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor - like getting high. The most frequently abused prescriptions drugs are opioids, depressants and stimulants.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, over 2 million Americans suffer from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid abuse. Opioids are typicallu prescribed to treat pain and include drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin. The Center for Disease Control reported “in 2012, physicians wrote 259 million prescriptions for pain killers, enough to give a bottle of pills to every adult in the USA.” Opioids are the most commonly abused substances, after marijuana and alcohol, by Americans 14 and older and more people die from prescription opioid overdoses than all other drugs combined, including heroin.
Depressants, such as sedatives and anti-anxiety medications like Xanax and Valium, are the second most commonly abused prescription drugs. Depressants slow down brain actively often resulting in sleepiness, slurred speech, lack of coordination, disorientation and shallow breathing.
The most commonly abused stimulants are amphetamines and methylphenidate which are found in medications used to treat ADHD, including Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulants increase brain activity leading to increased alertness, attention and energy. Stimulants are commonly abused by students in misguided attempts to boost academic performance. Taking high doses of stimulants can cause increased blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure and lead to an increased risk for seizures and strokes.
According to the Mayo Clinic signs of prescription drug abuse include:
- Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
- Taking higher doses than prescribed
- Excessive mood swings or hostility
- Increased or decreased need of sleep
- Confusion and poor decision-making
- Appearing to be high, unusually energetic or revved up, or sedated
- Continually "losing" prescriptions, so more prescriptions must be written
- Seeking prescriptions from more than one doctor or “doctor shopping”