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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Prescription Drug Abuse

Is it possible that you or someone you love is addicted to prescription drugs? Most of us take prescription drugs only for the reason the doctor intended. Nevertheless, an estimated 48 million people (aged 12 and older), according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime. That figure represents approximately 20% of the U.S. population.

In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in prescription drug misuse or abuse. This increase has led to a corresponding increase in ER visits because of accidental overdoses as well as admissions to drug treatment programs for drug addictions.

What Is a Drug Addiction?

Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease. It causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the addicted person as well as the people around that person. The abuse of drugs -- even prescription drugs -- leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain.

For most people, the initial decision to take prescription drugs is voluntary. Over a period of time, however, changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse affect a person's self control and ability to make sound decisions. While this is going on, the person continues to experience intense impulses to take more drugs.

Which Prescription Drugs Are Commonly Abused?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the three classes of prescription drugs that are often abused include:

  • Opioids used to treat pain
  • Central nervous system (CNS) depressants, such as benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin), used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders
  • Stimulants, such as amphetamine and dextroamphetamine (Adderall) or methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Methylin, Ritalin) used to treat attention deficit disorder and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder).


How Do Opioids Work on the Brain and Body?

Since the early 1990s, doctors' prescriptions for opioid medications -- such as codeine and morphine (Astramorph, Avinza, Kadian, MS-Contin, Ora-Morph SR) -- have greatly increased. That increase can be attributed to an aging population and a greater prevalence of chronic pain. Other drugs in this class include:

  • Fentanyl (Actiq, Duragesic, Fentora)
  • Hydrocodone with acetaminophen (Lorcet, Lortab, Norco, Vicodin)
  • Hydrocodone (Zohydro ER, Hysingla ER)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid, Exalgo)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Methadone (Dolophine, Methadose)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, OxyFast, Roxicodone)
  • Oxycodone with acetaminophen (Roxicet, Endocet,Percocet)
  • Oxycodone and naloxone (Targiniq ER)
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