According to the 2013 Monitoring the Future Survey, by the 12th grade, almost 22% of teenagers have used prescription drugs for non-medical use. The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers were responsible for more than 475,000 emergency department visits in 2009, a number that continues to grow. In 2001, 9,197 people died from a prescription drug overdose; that number jumped to 22,114 in 2012.
Painkillers typically contain opioids naturally derived from poppy flowers, or a lab-made, semi-synthetic substitute. Upon entering the body, opioids bind to opioid receptor sites. This reduces the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affects the areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus. Medications in this category include:
Depressants are prescribed to treat a wide variety of conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks and sleep disorders. Medications in this category include:
Depressants inhibit brain activity causing a drowsy or calming effect.
Stimulants are prescribed to treat disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and, occasionally, depression. Stimulants affect the brain through a slow and steady release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. Brand-name medications in this category include:
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs do not require a prescription for purchase or use. These products are widely available at drug stores, supermarkets and convenience stores.
The most commonly abused OTC drugs include those that contain the ingredient DXM (dextromethorphan), which is used to treat cough, cold and flu symptoms. DXM can distort vision, cause dizziness, agitation and paranoia. Hallucinations are another side effect of DXM intoxication. When abused at high enough doses, DXM can suppress the central nervous system, and result in death. DXM can cause psychological dependence and potentially fatal liver damage.
Weight loss drugs like laxatives, diuretics and diet pills can also be abused. Ephedrine is a common stimulant that can be found in diet pills, which can affect the central nervous system, increase metabolism and make your heart beat faster. This can result in heart problems or high blood pressure. Even in a healthy person, diet pills can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke.
Abusing prescription drugs can lead to a variety of adverse health effects, including addiction and affect the brain in ways very similar to illicit drugs.
Short-term effects of painkillers include:
Some short-term effects of depressants may include:
Some short-term effects of stimulants can include:
When used long-term, opioids can cause physical dependence and addiction. Opioids withdrawal symptoms include:
Depressants withdrawal symptoms include:
Once addicted, going “cold turkey” (completely stopping drug use) off of some depressants can have life-threatening consequences, such as seizures, convulsions and, in rare instances, death.
Stimulants withdrawal symptoms include:
Repeated abuse of some stimulants can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia, even psychosis. Taking high doses of a stimulant may result in dangerously high body temperature and an irregular heartbeat. There is also the potential for cardiovascular failure or seizures.
Prescription drugs are known by a variety of other names, dependent on the type.
Prescription medications, particularly those with high abuse potential like painkillers, should be properly disposed of immediately. You can do this by depositing them at a prescription drop box. The prescriptions placed in these boxes are disposed of by law enforcement. Contact your local police department to get more information about prescription drop boxes near you.
There are several things you can do to help prevent prescription drug abuse including:
If you, or someone you know, has a problem with prescription drugs, talk to a trusted adult. Seek out local substance abuse treatment centers in your area for further help. A physician or a counselor should be able to assist you in finding treatment centers.