Pharmaceutical drugs can be just as dangerous as street drugs when taken without a prescription or a doctor’s supervision. Prescription drug abuse involves using a prescribed medication in a way that was not intended by the prescriber. It may involve borrowing a pain pill from a family member or crushing and snorting pills to get high. The abuse of certain prescription drugs is a serious health issue for teens and adults. Drug poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in the United States in 2008.
Consider these facts:
- Nearly in one in five teens has used a prescription drug to get high.
- Young adults aged 18-25 are the most common users of prescription medication for nonmedical use.
- Teens report getting drugs from the medicine cabinets in their own homes and from relatives and friends.
Some of the most abused prescription drugs include:
- Painkillers called opioids – brand names such as Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin
What they look like: Tablets, capsules, skin patches, powder, chunks in varying colors, liquid form for oral use and injection, syrups, suppositories and lollipops.
How they are used: they can be swallowed, smoked, sniffed or injected.
- Symptoms of abuse: drowsiness, inability to concentrate, apathy, slowed physical activity, constipation, nausea, vomiting and slowed breathing.
- Stimulants – brand names such as Ritalin and Adderall
What they look like: Pills, powder, rocks, and injectable liquids
How they are used: Stimulants can be pills or capsules that are swallowed. Smoking snorting, or injecting stimulants produces a sudden sensation known as a “rush” or a “flash.”
Symptoms of abuse: agitation, hostility, panic, agresion, and suicidal or homicidal tendencies, paranoia, sometimes accompanied by both auditory and visual halluciantions, dizziness, tremors, chest pain with palpitations, excessive sweating, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
- Depressants– brand names such as Valium, Xanax, Ativan
What they look like: Pills, syrups, and injectable liquids
How they are used: Individuals abuse depressants to experience euphoria. Depressants are also used with other drugs to add to the other drugs’ high or deal with their side effects. Depressants like GHB and Rohypnol are also misused to facilitate sexual assault.
Symptoms of abuse: drowsiness, unsteady gait, poor judgement (similar symptoms as alcohol abuse). These drugs are most often abused in conjunction with other drugs. For example, a methamphetamine user may use this type of drug to come down from over-stimulation.
Other symptoms a person may be abusing a prescription drug:
- Appearing to be high or sedated
- “Losing” prescriptions so that more must be written
- Taking more than what is prescribed
- Seeking prescriptions from more than one prescriber
- Stealing, forging or selling prescriptions
What can parents do?
- If you take prescription drugs, keep track of how many pills you have. If your teen has a prescription, monitor the dosage and refills.
- Lock up your prescription drugs. If possible, use a small safe or put them in a place where only you can gain access to them.
- Discard unused prescription drugs. Read about the Prescription Drug Round Up.
- Monitor over the counter cough and cold medications. In Washoe County 18% of high school students say they have used an over the counter drug to get high.
Sources: Partnership for a Drug Free America, 2006 Partnership Attitude Tracking Survey (PATS)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Drug Poisoning Deaths in the United States, 1980-2008
United States, U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. Drugs of Abuse 2015 Edition: A DEA Resource Guide.