Rx Drug Abuse: Common and Dangerous
What are the most abused prescription drugs, and what are the risks?
These drugs, which include Ritalin, Concerta, and Adderall, are often
prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). By enhancing
brain activity, stimulants increase one's attention, alertness, and energy.
Typically, high school and college students abuse these drugs for different
reasons, "both for what I consider typical drug abuse reasons, for its
intoxicating or inebriating qualities, to feel good or feel high," Compton
says. "But they're also taking it as a performance-enhancing substance to
increase their ability to stay up late and to work and concentrate."
Not only are these older students abusing stimulants, so are junior high
students, Compton adds. The rates are much higher in high school and college,
he says. "But even in the younger group, we see significant abuse."
According to the NIDA, health risks include: addiction and elevated blood
pressure, heart rate, and respiration. In high doses, stimulants can cause
irregular heartbeats and dangerously high body temperature, heart failure, or
deadly seizures. Some stimulants can also cause hostility or paranoia.
Opioid Pain Relievers
These potent medications are prescribed for acute or chronic pain, as well
as to relieve pain after surgery. They work by blocking pain perception.
Among the opioids, OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percodan are the most commonly
abused, Compton says, although other types in this category are also
"OxyContin is very concerning because it's an extremely powerful opioid
agent. It's a fantastic medication for people with serious pain. It's just
lifesaving for many people," Compton says. But when it's abused, it can
have a heroin-like effect.
Teens who abuse opioids tend not to be "drug-naïve," he adds.
"They're using other substances as well -- marijuana, alcohol,
tobacco." Opioids tend not to be the first substance they try. But adults
who are prescribed these painkillers for a legitimate reason, such as serious
pain, can also become addicted.
The most dangerous medical risk is severe respiratory depression or death if
someone takes a large single dose of an opioid. But other problems can occur,
too. "They're very sedating," Compton says. "So accidents would be
a real risk as well, driving or even around the house -- falling down, hitting
your head, cutting yourself accidentally."
Sedatives and Tranquilizers
Sedatives are also called central nervous system depressants because they
work by slowing brain activity and creating a calming effect. They're often
prescribed for anxiety, panic attacks, and sleep disorders.
Commonly abused sedatives include Valium and Xanax.
People of all ages may abuse sedatives and tranquilizers, but again, the
problem is mostly concentrated in youth and young adults, Compton says.
The drugs can be addictive. These drugs slow brain function, and as a
result, a person who stops taking them can have a rebound in brain activity
that leads to seizures.