Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs
Although a significant percentage of the population that is prescribed prescription medications takes them responsibly and as intended, more than 20 percent of Americans over 12 years old report taking prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once.
The three main types of prescription drugs that are commonly abused include:
- Opioid painkillers (e.g., codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, oxycodone, etc.), which block the sensation of pain by binding to opioid receptors in the brain and throughout the nervous system
- Central nervous system (CNS) depressants (also referred to as tranquilizers, sedatives and hypnotics), including benzodiazepines, barbiturates and non-benzodiazepine sleep medications, which slow brain activity by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to make people feel more calm, sedated and relaxed
- Stimulants: Stimulant medications, including amphetamines such as Adderall and methylphenidate (e.g., Concerta, Ritalin), prescription stimulants that are commonly prescribed for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which raise heart rate, blood pressure and can strain the heart, potentially having fatal cardiovascular consequences
Prevalence Of Prescription Drug Abuse
Thousands of people begin taking prescription medications for nonmedical reasons, or reasons other than prescribed, every year. In 2015, there were about 7 percent of Americans over the age of 12 who reported that they had misused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year, according to the latest data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Additionally, there were:
- 7 percent who reported misusing opioid prescription pain relievers
- 3 percent who reported misusing prescription tranquilizers
- 0 percent who reported misusing prescription stimulants
- 6 percent who reported misusing prescription sedatives
Of all age groups, young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 often have the highest rates of nonmedical prescription medication use. Young people who take prescription medications for nonmedical reasons are more likely to smoke cigarettes, drink heavily and use marijuana, cocaine and other illicit drugs.
Dangers Of Prescription Drug Abuse
Prescription drug abuse has contributed to significant morbidity and mortality in the United States, as well as a dramatic rise in the number of emergency room visits, overdoses and deaths, reported the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). It can contribute to harmful physical and mental health consequences, especially when used in combination with alcohol, other prescription medications and illicit drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine or heroin.
The signs of prescription drug abuse vary greatly depending on the type of drug that is being abused. For example, prescription opioid drug abuse can be life-threatening as high doses can depress respiration to the point where breathing stops. Prescription opioid painkillers are the most commonly abused drugs and consist of more than half of all overdoses and deaths due to prescription drug abuse in the United States.