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Commonly Abused Prescriptions

One of the fastest growing drug trends in the United States isn't to do will illicit drugs. Rather, prescription drug abuse is one of the areas of drug abuse that is seeing a significant increase. This is due in great measure to the easy accessibility of prescription drugs. (Just look in the medicine cabinet or pilfer them from grandma's purse.)

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 15.4 percent of seniors in high school used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes in the last year. Older demographics are also seeing increases in prescription drug use. The recent death of actor Heath Ledger, due to overdose on a cocktail of prescription drugs, only serves to highlight the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.

The most popular drugs for abuse are classed in terms of what they do: opioids, central nervous system depressants and stimulants. Each class has its own adherents, the largest of which is opioids, and includes such drugs as Vicodin and OxyContin. Many people abuse prescription drugs do so under the assumption that they are "safer" than illicit drugs. Unfortunately, when used inappropriately without the guidance of a physician, prescription drugs can be just as dangerous - and just as addictive - as illicit drugs like heroine and cocaine.


This is the largest class in terms of common prescription drug abuse. According to NIDA, 2.5 million people abuse prescription opioids for the first time every year. Since 1994, use of opioids for non-medical purposes has grown 450 percent.

Prescription opioids are often powerful pain relievers, such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Demerol is also becoming a popular prescription drug to abuse. These drugs are sometimes pilfered from relatives that have prescriptions for pain management. Additionally, because there is no truly national network for prescriptions, some get multiple prescriptions for pain from different doctors. Extra pills can be sold for quite a bit on the black market.


Central nervous system depressants

Central nervous system depressants are used as tranquilizers and sedatives. Often they are used to help control sleep disorders and anxiety. This is also the second-most popular category of prescription drugs for abuse. NIDA reports that nearly 1.5 million people abuse central nervous system depressants for the first each year. Use of these drugs has increased 170 percent since 1994.

Like opioids, central nervous system depressants are obtained fairly easily by stealing them from medicine cabinets and by getting multiple prescriptions. Because, like pain relievers, the symptoms that these drugs are designed to treat are often self-reported, it makes it difficult to detect those who are obtaining the drugs for "recreational" purposes. Popular central nervous system depressants abused right now include Xanax and Nembutal. Valium is making a bit of a comeback in terms of prescription drug abuse.


Even though this is the least popular category of prescription drug abuse, stimulants still see a significant number of new adherents ever year. NIDA estimates that 761,000 first time abusers of stimulants surface each year. Many of them are high school students that use drugs meant to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Stimulants are not only used for "recreation" among teenagers, but also among the "smart" kids in order to help them focus more intensely, or to help them stay up later to study.

Stimulants like the ADHD drugs Ritalin, Strattera and Adderall are often acquired from teens that have prescriptions to help them control their ADHD. It is a growing trend for ADHD teens to sell pills individually on a school's "black market."

Over the counter drug abuse

Even though they aren't prescription drugs, there are some over the counter medications that are being abused. The most common is cough medicine with dextromethorphan (DXM). Robitussin is one of the more popular DXM cough medicines, but it isn't the only one. The Greater Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse reports that since 2000, there has been a four-fold increase nationally in abuse cases related to DXM.

DXM is abused for its effects on vision and hearing - large enough doses can have an almost hallucinogenic effect on the user. It is important to realize that just because a medication is over the counter, it doesn't mean that it is harmless. And over the counter drugs can be addictive.

Just because they are "legal" doesn't mean that they are safe. It is especially important to be aware that interactions between different drugs can be just as deadly as overdose. This is why "pharming parties" - parties in which everyone brings pills and dumps them into a communal bowl for sharing - can be so dangerous. It is important to understand that "legal" drugs can be quite as dangerous as illegal drugs.