Availability and access to prescription drugs, including opioid pain relievers, tranquilizers, sedatives and stimulants, has become a major public health concern with the surge in overdose deaths, emergency room (ER) visits, and hospitalizations due to prescription drug misuse.
While the majority of the people who take prescription medications use them as intended; a significant percentage of people use prescription medications for nonmedical reasons. Prescription drug abuse can have serious health consequences and can significantly increase the risk of adverse side effects, overdose and death, especially when a person takes them in greater quantities or for reasons other than prescribed.
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What is prescription drug abuse?
Prescription drug abuse refers to taking medications differently than prescribed or taking them without a prescription. Nonmedical use of prescription drugs refers to taking them in greater amounts, more often or longer than prescribed, or without a prescription, to get high.
Commonly abused prescription drugs
Although a significant percentage of the population that is prescribed such medications takes them responsibly and as intended, when abused prescription medications can be addictive and dangerous.
Following are the three main types of prescription drugs that are commonly abused:
- Opioid painkillers (e.g., codeine, hydrocodone, fentanyl, oxycodone, etc.), that 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, that slow brain activity by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) to make people feel calmer, 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), that raise heart rate, blood pressure and can strain the heart, potentially having fatal cardiovascular consequences