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When you think of drug abuse, you probably think of illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine. But did you know that the most commonly abused drugs are prescription drugs like opioids, stimulants, and anti-anxiety and insomnia drugs?
Yet prescription-related overdoses – the majority of which are the result of misusing pain killers—are now responsible for more drug-related overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined, as well as half a million emergency room visits a year. 1 2
The numbers are shocking: 3
Prescription drug abuse means using prescribed drugs in ways they weren’t prescribed. For instance, taking higher doses or taking them more often than prescribed; taking them for things they weren’t prescribed for; or taking someone else’s drugs.
The most commonly abused drugs are painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (Kadian, Avinza), and codeine. Misusing them can lead to a physical dependence on the drug, in which you experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking them, and/or addiction, in which you literally can’t stop taking them and will do anything – including stealing, lying, and hurting the people you love – to get them.
The first sign that you may have a problem is if you keep using the medication after your pain is gone. Other warning signs include:
If you think you or someone you know might be misusing prescription drugs, it’s time to ask for help. Treatment for prescription drug addiction usually starts with weaning you off the drug to end your physical dependence. This is typically followed with counseling (sometimes in an inpatient setting), and may also include the use of certain medications designed to treat addiction, such as naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine.
Remember: prescription drug abuse is just as serious as abusing any other drug. And, like those other drugs, it can devastate your life, the lives of your loved ones, and, in an increasing number of instances, end your life.
CDC. Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers—United States, 1999-2008. MMWR 2011; 60: 1-6 ↩
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Drug Abuse Warning Network: selected tables of national estimates of drug-related emergency department visits. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, SAMHSA; 2010. ↩
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Policy Impact: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/homeandrecreationalsafety/rxbrief/. ↩