Prescription Pill Abuse Facts


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) DrugFacts fact sheet on pharmaceuticals, after marijuana and alcohol, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications are the most abused substances in the United States by Americans over the age of 14. It is a problem that has been on the rise for several years now and seems to show no signs of slowing.

Reported Usage among 12th Graders

The percentage of 12th graders who report having used the following pharmaceuticals in the previous twelve months includes:

  • Vicodin: 8.1 %
  • Adderall: 6.5 %
  • Tranquilizers: 5.6 %
  • Cough Medicine: 5.3%
  • Oxycontin: 4.9%
  • Sedatives: 4.3%
  • Ritalin: 2.6%

As is clear from the list, the most frequently and commonly abused classes of prescription drugs are:

  • Opioids
  • Stimulants
  • Sedatives (CNS depressants)
  • OTC cough and cold medicines (used for their dextromethorphan)

It is common for teenagers especially to think that simply because a drug is coming from a pharmacy or has been prescribed—for themselves or for someone else—that the drug is necessarily safe, and this is not true. It is only deemed safe when taken by the person for whom it has been prescribed and when it is taken according to the doctor's orders on the label. Any other form or manner approaches becoming abuse, which can lead to dependence, addiction, and death.

Abusing Prescription Pills

Both OTC drugs and prescription drugs are typically abused accordingly:

  • Taking someone else's prescribed medication
  • Taking more than is prescribed on the label
  • Taking the medication in a manner not described on the label (i.e. crushing and snorting a pill meant for oral consumption)
  • Taking a pill for reasons other than indicated on the label

The Fatal Consequences of Prescription Pill Abuse

According to statistics published by the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly, use and abuse of opioid pain relievers (such as Vicodin and Oxycontin) are responsible for more deaths than all other illegal drugs combined—and this is true for every age group from the age of 15 past the age of 65.


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