prescription drug abuse facts

21 Shocking Prescription Drug Abuse Facts

For many, the phrase “drug abuse” brings to mind images of highly illegal substances being sold and used in back alleys and club restrooms. However, many would be surprised to find that one of the most dangerous drug problems we face today is that of prescription drug addiction.

Over the last several years, there has been a rise in the use of prescription drugs as recreational drugs, not just among adults, but among teenagers as well. Access to these drugs is easier than you might think, and the abuse often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed until it is too late.

This is an epidemic that is affecting people personally and professionally. NPR reported that one of the contributing factors to a dramatic drop in job applicants across the board is the opioid crisis in America. It’s also affecting teenagers in a big way, as many have easy access to such drugs.

It’s important for the public to be informed and prepared to deal with prescription drug abuse, and to that end, here are 21 shocking prescription drug abuse facts everyone should know.

what are common prescription drugs

What Are Common Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs that are most commonly abused can be divided into three categories:

  • Opioids: Opioids are prescription painkillers, and include drugs such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin, Codeine, and Morphine. These are heavy-duty prescription pain relievers, often prescribed for chronic pain and postoperative procedures.
    • Opioids are similar in chemical makeup to endorphins, which are released by the body to naturally relieve pain.
    • Opioids are also similar to heroin, making them a common choice for drug abuse.
  • Depressants: This includes benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, Klonopin, Halcion, and Librium, as well as barbiturates (drugs used as sedatives and sleeping pills) such as Amytal, Nembutal, and Seconal.
    • These are often prescribed for people with anxiety or sleeping problems.
  • Stimulants: This includes methylphenidates, such as Ritalin and Concerta, and amphetamines, such as Dexedrine and Adderall, commonly used to treat ADHD and increase alertness, energy, and attention.
how are prescription drugs misused and abused

How are Prescription Drugs Misused and Abused?

According to the National Institute of Health, there are three primary ways in which prescription drugs are abused.

  • Using drugs prescribed to someone else. Because prescription drugs are often easily accessed simply by opening the medicine cabinet, they are abused by those who were not prescribed the medicine. This is particularly true for teenagers. People often unknowingly create a danger for prescription drug abuse by sharing leftover or unused prescriptions with family members and friends.
  • Using drugs for a purpose other than the one intended. Because many prescription painkillers provide a euphoric feeling, they are used for the purpose of getting high, rather than relieving pain. There has also been a rise in the misuse of ADHD drugs such as Ritalin, as students or athletes believe it will give them the extra boost of energy needed to be successful.
  • Using drugs in a way or quantity other than is prescribed. This includes overdosing on prescription drugs, as well as taking them incorrectly (i.e. crushing and snorting a drug, rather than taking it orally, as intended).
what happens when you abuse prescription drugs

What Happens When You Abuse Prescription Drugs?

By nature, a prescription drug is intended for a very specific and limited purpose. Form and dose are regulated by doctors who know how the drug interacts with the body. Doctors also take into account specifics about the patient receiving the prescription, such as weight, medical conditions, and other drug interactions.

If a patient, or someone else, misuses these drugs, they disregard the careful consideration of medical professionals and put themselves at risk for dangerous results such as seizures, coma, or even death.

“People can also have different reactions to drugs due to the differences in each person’s body chemistry. A drug that was okay for one person could be very risky, even fatal, for someone else.” – Foundation For A Drug Free World

In addition to this, all prescription drugs come with a list of possible side effects, which the patient is made aware of before taking. Thus abusing a prescription drug puts someone at greater risk for these side effects.

When you take prescription drugs, the following things happen in your brain and body:

  • Opioids dull the feelings of pain or pleasure as they bind molecules on opioid receptors in the brain. They also cause a person to feel sleepy and can sometimes lead to stomach pain and constipation. At higher doses, restricted breathing can occur.
  • Stimulants cause dopamine and norepinephrine to build up in the brain. This can lead to feelings of paranoia and anxiety, an increase in heart rate, and sometimes even an increase in body temperature.
  • Depressants lead to a calm and relaxed feeling. Overdosing can cause slurred speech, drowsiness, and disorientation. This also puts a person at risk for making dangerous decisions while under the influence.


prescription drug abuse

Important Facts About Prescription Drug Abuse

  1. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “in 2013, 207 million prescriptions were written for prescription opioid pain medications.”
  2. A staggering 15 million people in the United States abuse prescription drugs. This number is more than the combined use of hallucinogens, heroin, cocaine, and inhalants.
  3. According to available data, more people were killed due to prescription overdose than as a result of traffic accidents. The numbers from 2009 show that overdose deaths exceeded car accident deaths by over 1,200.
  4. Two-thirds of those abusing prescription drugs list friends or relatives as their primary source.
  5. As of 2015, medical emergencies resulting from prescription drug abuse increased 132 percent over the previous seven years; those emergencies related to opioid abuse rose 183 percent.
  6. Even though the United States makes up 5 percent of the world’s population, it consumes 75 percent of the world’s prescription drugs.
  7. In a 2013 survey, only 16 percent of Americans believed that enough was being done to combat prescription drug abuse and addiction.
  8. The combined deaths caused by depressants, anti-depressants, and opioids are greater than those deaths caused by overdoses of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and amphetamines.
  9. There has been a shift in drug overdose-related deaths in the United States, from inner city and African American communities to white rural communities. This change is evidenced by the rates of overdose- and substance abuse-related hospitalization.
  10. More than 29,700 people died from a prescription drug overdose in 2015.
  11. Men are more likely to die of drug overdose than women. Even though this remains true, the percentage increase in the rate of overdose deaths was greater for women (151 percent) than for men (85 percent), between the years of 1999 and 2010.
  12. Young adults (ages 18-25) are the largest abusers of opioid pain relievers, ADHD medication, and anti-anxiety drugs. “They do it for all kinds of reasons, including to get high or because they think Rx stimulants will help them study better,” says the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
  13. In one survey, nearly 50 percent of teens erroneously believe that prescription drugs are a safer choice than illegal substances and admit to finding these drugs in their home medicine cabinets.
  14. Daily, in the United States alone, 2,500 young people between the ages of 12 and 17 experience prescription drug abuse for the first time.
  15. In a 2007 survey, 3.3 percent of all 12-17-year-olds, as well as six percent of all 17-25-year-olds reported abusing prescription drugs in the previous month.
  16. In 2005, 4.4 million teenagers (aged 12 to 17) in the US admitted to taking prescription painkillers, and 2.3 million took a prescription stimulant such as Ritalin. 2.2 million abused over-the-counter drugs such as cough syrup. The average age for first-time users is now 13 to 14.
  17. Prescription drug abuse is the most commonly used substance for teens after marijuana and alcohol.
  18. Twenty-five percent of teens in the United States admit to having misused or abused prescription drugs.
  19. Of teens who have admitted to abusing prescription drugs, 1 in 5 did so before the age of 14.
  20. One of the greatest dangers of prescription drug abuse is that it significantly increases the likelihood of other types of substance abuse. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University reported that teenagers engaging in prescription drug abuse are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times as likely to use marijuana, and up to 20 times more likely to use illegal substances such as heroin and cocaine.
  21. On average, prescription drugs are used for different reasons by male and female teenagers. Males tend to use them recreationally, while females use them for purposes such as alertness or weight loss.

As you can see, prescription drug abuse is a shockingly dangerous problem in our country and is a greater cause of death than all illegal substances combined. Drug addiction can happen to anyone but is especially possible with prescription drugs, which are readily available for many with little effort needed to acquire it.

It’s important for people, especially parents of teenagers, to be aware of these facts and to be careful about what is kept in their medicine cabinets. It’s also important to talk openly about drug addiction as well as its effects and to pursue or encourage treatment as needed.

Are You Struggling With Drug Addiction?

If you or a loved one is experiencing prescription drug addiction, seek help by using the Drug Treatment Center Finder to locate treatment facilities in your area. While the pressures of addiction can be overwhelming, never think you are alone. Help is available. Call 855-619-8070 today.