Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

The Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse

Keeping our children safe from danger requires public outreach and education so that parents and other adults understand the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse occurs when someone takes a medication that was prescribed for someone else or takes their own prescription in a manner or dosage other than what was prescribed. Abuse can include taking a friend’s or relative’s prescription to get high, to help with studying, or even to treat pain.

Prescription drugs such as pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, are the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines. Opioids (such as OxyContin and Vicodin), central nervous system depressants (such as Xanax and Valium), and stimulants (such as Concerta and Adderall) are the most commonly abused prescription drugs. The National Institute of Health estimates that nearly 20 percent of our population have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.

Teen Usage Increasing
National studies indicate that the intentional abuse of prescription drugs by teens is a growing concern. According to some reports, each day an average of 2,000 teenagers use a prescription drug without a doctor’s guidance for the first time. There may be a perception, especially among younger people, that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs. Most people don’t lock up their prescription medications, nor do they discard them when they are no longer needed for their intended use, making them vulnerable to theft or misuse. Because these drugs become so readily available, and many believe they are safe way to get high, some teens that wouldn't otherwise touch illicit drugs might abuse prescription drugs.

Serious Health Risks
There are serious health risks related to prescription drug abuse. Excessive dosages of prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause breathing difficulty and even death. Stimulant abuse can lead to hostility, paranoia, and the potential for fatal seizures. Even in small doses, depressants and painkillers impair motor skills, judgment, and the ability to learn. Doctors know how long it takes for a pill or capsule to dissolve in the stomach, release drugs to the bloodstream, and reach the brain. They also take into account a person’s weight, how long they’ve been prescribed the medication, what other medications they are taking, and many other factors when determining the appropriate dosage. When abused, prescription drugs are often taken in inappropriate doses or by routes of administration that change the way the drugs act in the body, risking overdose. For example, when people who abuse oxycodone (OxyContin) crush and inhale the pills, a twelve hour dose impacts their central nervous system all at once—which can be lethal.

Dangerous Side Effects
People who abuse prescription drugs often fail to understand that almost every medication presents some risk of undesirable and potentially dangerous side effects. For example, OxyContin stops pain, but also causes constipation, drowsiness and slow breathing. Stimulants such as Adderall increase attention but raise blood pressure and heart rate. These side effects can be worse when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed or abused in combination with other substances such as alcohol, other prescription drugs, and even cold medicines.  

Leads to Addiction
Studies show that when people take a medication prescribed for a medical condition, they usually do not become addicted, because the medication is prescribed in dosages and forms that are considered safe. The drug is compensating for a problem, which makes the person feel better not high. However, medications that affect the brain can also change the way it functions - especially when they are taken repeatedly. They can alter the reward system, making it harder for the brain to feel good without the drug - no different than what can happen from repeated use of illicit drugs. Addiction is just as likely to result from prescription drug abuse as with illegal street drug abuse. Taking drugs repeatedly over time causes changes in the body as well as the brain, resulting in physical dependence. When usage is abruptly stopped, the person experiences withdrawal symptoms – even those who are prescribed medications and take them appropriately. Withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, chills, vomiting, muscle pain, and diarrhea.