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.
- Although most people take prescription medications responsibly, in 2017, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health determined that an estimated 18 million people (more than 6 percent of those aged 12 and older) misused such medications at least once in the past year.
- According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, overall drug overdose deaths were down between 2017 and 2018 with 67,637 deaths in 2018. Prescription opioid deaths declined while deaths from synthetic narcotics other than methadone skyrocketed with 31,335 deaths, mostly due to fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.
Opioids are typically prescribed to treat pain and include drugs such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Highly potent fentanyl and fentanyl analogs are the most commonly abused opioid and now more people die from it over other prescription opioids.
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 stimulant is methamphetamine. 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"