Prescription Drug Information

Prescription Drug Abuse

The non-medical use of prescription drugs is a serious public health concern. Nonmedical use of prescription drugs like opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants can lead to abuse and addiction, characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.

In 1999, an estimated 4 million people, about 2 percent of the population age 12 and older, were currently (use in past month) using prescription drugs non-medically. Of these, 2.6 million misused pain relievers, 1.3 million misused sedatives and tranquilizers, and 0.9 million misused stimulants. While prescription drug abuse affects many Americans, some trends of particular concern can be seen among older adults, adolescents, and women.
The misuse of prescribed medications may be the most common form of drug abuse among the elderly. Older people are prescribed medications about three times more frequently than the general population, and have poorer compliance with directions for use.
The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse numbers indicate that the sharpest increases in new users of prescription drugs for non-medical purposes occur in 12 to 17 and 18 to 25 year-olds. Among 12 to 14 year-olds, psychotherapeutics (e.g., pain killers, tranquilizers, sedatives, and stimulants) were reported to be one of two primary drugs used.

Overall, men and women have roughly similar rates of nonmedical use of prescription drugs, with the exception of 12 to 17 year olds. In this age group, young women are more likely than young men to use psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically. Also, among women and men who use either a sedative, anti-anxiety drug, or hypnotic, women are almost twice as likely to become addicted.

The Drug Abuse Warning Network, which collects data on drug-related hospital emergency room episodes, reported that mentions of hydrocodone as a cause for visiting an emergency room increased 37 percent among all age groups from 1997 to 1999. Also, mentions of clonazepam increased 102 percent since 1992.

 

Some Commonly Prescribed Medications: Use and Consequences

Opioids


Oxycodone (OxyContin)
Propoxyphene (Darvon)
Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
Meperidine (Demerol)
Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)
CNS Depressants
Barbiturates

Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal)

Benzodiazepines

Diazepam (Valium)
Chlordiazepoxide hydrochloride (Librium)
Alprazolam (Xanax)
Triazolam (Halcion)
Estazolam (ProSom)
Stimulants

Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
Sibutramine hydrochloride monohydrate (Meridia)
Generally prescribed for

Postsurgical pain relief
Management of acute or chronic pain
Relief of coughs and diarrhea
Generally prescribed for

Anxiety
Tension
Panic attacks
Acute stress reactions
Sleep disorders
Anesthesia (at high doses)
Generally prescribed for

Narcolepsy
Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Depression that does not respond to other treatment
Short-term treatment of obesity
Asthma
In the body

Opioids attach to opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord, blocking the transmission of pain messages to the brain.

In the body

CNS depressants slow brain activity through actions on the GABA system and, therefore, produce a calming effect.

In the body

Stimulants enhance brain activity, causing an increase in alertness, attention, and energy.

Effects of short-term use

Blocked pain messages
Drowsiness
Constipation
Depressed respiration
(depending on dose)
Effects of short-term use

A “sleepy” and uncoordinated feeling during the first few days, as the body becomes accustomed – tolerant – to the effects, these feelings diminish.
Effects of short-term use

Elevated blood pressure
Increased heart rate
Increased respiration
Suppressed appetite
Sleep deprivation
Effects of long-term use
Potential for tolerance, physical dependence, withdrawal, and/or addiction
Effects of long-term use
Potential for tolerance, physical dependence, withdrawal, and/or addiction
Effects of long-term use
Potential for addiction
Possible negative effects
Severe respiratory depression or death following a large single dose
Possible negative effects
Seizures following a rebound in brain activity after reducing or discontinuing use
Possible negative effects

Dangerously high body temperatures or an irregular heartbeat after taking high doses
Cardiovascular failure or lethal seizures
For some stimulants, hostility or feelings of paranoia after taking high doses repeatedly over a short period of time
Should not be used with
Other substances that cause CNS depression, including

Alcohol
Antihistamines
Barbiturates
Benzodiazepines
General anesthetics
Should not be used with
Other substances that cause CNS depression, including

Alcohol
Prescription opioid pain medicines
Some over-the-counter cold and allergy medications
Should not be used with

Over-the-counter cold medicines containing decongestants
Antidepressants, unless supervised by a physician
Some asthma medications