What are prescription drugs?
  • Prescription drugs are a class of different types of man-made medications. It refers to types of medications that needs a doctor’s note in order to purchase it at a pharmacy. These are the drugs that are located behind the counter. It has high potential for abuse and occurs when individuals take prescription drugs in a way not intended for its actual use. The abuse of prescription drug is high among teens and most get it from people they know, such as friends and relatives. They can be abuse for a variety of reasons, such as to get “high,” to lose weight or to “fit in” at school. Every day in the US, about 2,500 teens abuse a prescription drug for the first time.[1]
  • Prescription drugs come in many forms and are divided into three classes: opioids, depressants and stimulants.[2] Opioids are painkiller medications like Vicodin and OxyContin. Depressants are used to aid in sleeping and to reduce anxiety, such as Valium and Xanax. Stimulants are commonly used to treat attention disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHA) and are medications like Adderall or Ritalin. Most prescription drugs come in pill or capsule form and should not be taken in combination with other drugs, such as other prescription drugs or alcohol.

Why is it dangerous / harmful?

  • When taken in a way not directed by your doctor or any other medical professional, prescription drugs can become highly addictive and it many cases, can cause overdose. Abusing prescription drugs is illegal and sharing prescriptions between friends and family members is also illegal.[3] Prescription drugs are generally really strong medications, which shows why they need a prescription in the first place. When abused, they have the same dangerous effects as other illegal drugs. In fact, more than half of drug overdose deaths that occur in the US are caused by prescription drugs.[4] It is especially dangerous for teens, as teens who abuse prescription drugs are more likely to abuse other drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, and illegal street drugs.[5]
  • And because prescription drugs come in many forms, each different drug can impact your health differently and there are many short- and long-term effects. All prescription drugs come with side effects, in that they can effect the body and brain in different ways beyond the disease/illness the drug is meant to treat.[6] For instance, while an opioid like OxyContin is used to stop pain, it also causes constipation and sleepiness. These side effects become worse when the drugs are not taken as prescribed by the doctor or with other substances, such as alcohol. Beyond the side effects, many of the drugs become dangerous when abused. Opioids can make it harder to breathe and can lead to overdose and death. Stimulants can cause paranoia, increase body temperature and heart rate. Depressants can cause slurred speech, shallow breathing, and lack of coordination. It can also cause seizures, overdose and death. Continued abuse of these drugs can lead to addiction. This can only be avoided if you follow your doctors’s instructions on how to take the medication.[7]

But those are medications given by the doctor so how can they be unsafe?

  • Surveys have shown that nearly 50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are safer than illegal street drugs.[8] However, it’s important to understand that prescription drugs are medications that are given by doctors only to specific patients under specific circumstances. These medication are only safe when taken as directed. When they are abused in different ways, their effects on the brain and body can be damaging. It is important to remember the even when they are not being abused, prescription drugs have serious and sometimes harmful effects.[9]
  • Doctors know their patients best and will only give these medications after weighting the pros and cons of giving their patients certain medications. Doctors consider different things before writing a prescription, such as a patient’s individual health, what type and how much of a drug a patient can take and what side effects come with the drug.[10] Therefore, each single prescription that is given out is specific to the person that needs it. Taking medications that are not yours or getting any type of prescription from friends or family members means that you are taking medication that is not made for you and therefore is unsafe. This is because you do not know the potential and dangerous effects and side effects of the prescription drug, which doctors generally warn their patients about when giving a prescription.[11]

But prescription drugs are made to help people, so you cant get addicted to them, right?

  • It is true that prescription drugs are made to help a variety of illnesses and disease. However, this only applies to those who actually have permission from their doctors to take such drugs. It is important to understand that prescription drugs are given out in set amounts, as determined by a doctor. The set amounts, called dosage, determines how long the medication takes to dissolve in your stomach, release it into your bloodstream and reach your brain.[12] These set amounts specific to each patient a doctor sees. It is important because taking more than the prescribed amounts can change how your brain and body reacts to the drugs. This can lead to addiction and to addiction and even death. Even if the person needing that drug might get addicted if they do not follow their doctor’s instructions.

But my family has different types of medication all around the house so why should I worry?

  • Your family will have these medications from one time to another. Just because they may be around your house or in your medicine cabinets doesn’t mean that it is safe. Your parents or family members may not know where to properly place the medication or how to dispose of it once they are done using it. In fact, most teens who abuse prescription drugs find it within their families’ medicine cabinets.[13] But just because it’s there doesn’t mean that it is free to take. All prescription drugs are given for a reason, for a specific purpose and should not be taken for any other reason other than what the medication was intended for. Using them to get “high” or even to sell them to others is both dangerous and illegal.[14]