Prescription Drug Abuse: Prescription Drug Abuse: The Most Commonly Abused Classes of Prescription Drugs

Prescription drug abuse can be defined simply as anytime an individual takes a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose. This includes taking prescriptions that were not prescribed for you, taking prescriptions in a way other than how they were prescribed, and taking them for the experience or feeling that they cause. This is not to say that all of them are bad. Most prescription drugs can be effective when taken responsibly. That said, when taken irresponsibly, many of these drugs can be highly addictive and result in chemical dependency and overdoses, and in some cases, death.

Prescription drug abuse is nothing new, but what is new is the exponentially increasing portion of the population that is engaging in it every year. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 16 million Americans reported using them for a non-medical purpose in 2010; 7 million in the past month.

Most Common Classes of Prescription Drug Abuse

The three most common classes of prescription drug abuse are the following:

Opioids- Most often prescribed to treat pain

Central Nervous System Depressants- Most often prescribed to treat anxiety and sleep disorders

Stimulants- Most often prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the sleep disorder narcolepsy

Opioids are a class of narcotic pain relievers that range from the extremely potent like morphine and oxycodone which is often prescribed for pre and post surgery and severe pain to the less potent like codeine which is used to treat milder pain. The largest risks associated with opioid prescription drug abuse are that of addiction and overdose. Opioids can be highly addictive, especially when taking into account that abusers will often alter the route of administration (i.e. snorting or injecting instead of taking orally) to intensify the effects of the drug. In addition, overdose rates of opioids are of equal concern as they’ve tripled since 2009.

Central nervous system depressants, or tranquilizers and sedatives as they’re often called since they slow down normal brain functioning, are also a growing class of prescription drugs that are abused. This class of drugs consists of barbiturates which are used to treat anxiety, tension and sleep disorders as well as benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax, which are used to treat anxiety, acute stress reactions and panic attacks. Due to their highly addictive nature, benzodiazepines are traditionally only prescribed for short-term treatment and aren’t intended for long-term care. The dangers associated with central nervous system depressant prescription drug abuse are the same as opioids with one life-threatening addition, seizures that can come as a result of their withdrawal symptoms.

Stimulants used to be prescribed for many more conditions than they are now, like obesity and asthma for example, but their highly addictive nature led to a decrease in doctors prescribing them. That said, stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin, still make up a considerable portion of prescription drug abuse in this country. Serious risks associated with stimulant abuse include addiction and serious health complications like psychosis, seizures and cardiovascular issues.

Prescription drug abuse really has reached epidemic status in the United States for a variety of reasons. There’s a giant misconception out there that because these drugs can be obtained legally if your condition warrants it, then they must be safer than other illicit drugs. There is also a much larger amount of these drugs being prescribed every day than in recent decades. Regardless of the foundation, prescription drug abuse is equally as dangerous as illicit drug abuse and can bring you to your knees just as quickly.

Ben Brafman, LMHC, CAP is the President and CEO of Destination Hope, a licensed dual diagnosis substance abuse treatment center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Ben has more than 20 years of experience in the addiction and mental health fields, which led him to develop a combination of innovative treatment protocols at Destination Hope. He has been published on various topics including dual diagnosis and chemical dependency, and gives back to the community by educating other addiction counselors at his Academy for Addiction Professionals. No one ever starts abusing prescription drugs with the intention of becoming addicted. That said, it happens every day and can tear your life to pieces before you realize what’s happened. Let Destination Hope help you break free from the jail of prescription drug abuse. Call us when you’re ready at 1-877-380-9777 so we can help jump start your recovery today.

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GenerationRX: Prescription Drug Abuse (Part 1) – 2009 CBI National Student Production Awards Winner: Best Student Documentary Producers: Harry Fleckenstein, Missy Stankowski Director: Steven Klink Editor: Tim Hill Camera/Audio: Anthony Mennie, Michael Gorczynski For a DVD copy of this movie please visit the Rowan University Center for Addiction Study website at or call 856-863-2175 This documentary tells the story four people and their struggles with prescription drug abuse and also of one woman overcoming the death of her mother, who passed away from the disease of addiction from an overdose. This film delves into the characters introduction to the drugs, their downfall from addiction into their rock bottom, and leading into their hope for freedom from active addiction touching on their recovery process. Lisa is a beautiful woman who grew up in a good family. During college she had many injuries due to sports and was introduced to Oxycontin. After taking prescription medication, she was thrown into a world she had no control over. In the end of her addiction, she ended up homeless with her children taken away from her. Today almost 3 years clean, she shares her story of recovery. Rodney is an African-American gay man who grew up in the ghetto. He was introduced to drugs and when we tried Percocet, he was off to the races. Through the world of drugs and the lifestyle that comes with it, he now lives with AIDS. At his darkest hour he found himself living in abandoned houses. Today he has been clean and in


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