Prescription drug abuse, while most prevalent in the United States, is a problem in many areas around the world. In the United States alone, more than 15 million people abuse prescription drugs, more than the combined number who reported abusing cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin and result in the largest percentage of deaths from drug overdose, with opioid prescriptions being the leading cause. Other commonly abused prescription drugs besides opioids include stimulants, benzodiazepines and antidepressants.
Methamphetamines have been derived into prescription drugs to treat ADHD. Methyphenidate (Concerta), atomoxetine (Straterra) and dextroamphetamine/amphetamine (Adderall) are central nervous system stimulants used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. When medically prescribed for ADHD this class of drugs helps regulate central nervous system functioning and assists people with ADHD with thought and behavior (primarily impulsiveness) disorders. However this class of prescription drugs is widely used for non-medical purposes and as a result is known to be a very commonly abused prescription medication, especially among college-aged individuals. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that Adderall and its counterparts is taken by 6.4% of all full-time college students age 18 to 22 years. These medications are taken orally, crushed and inhaled ("snorted"), or mixed with water and injected directly into a vein (known as "slamming"). Twice as many prescription stimulant users compared with non-users also binge drink. Prescription stimulants are known to increase energy and concentration and therefore many college students use these drugs to study all night for a big exam or even use this drug at parties mixed with alcohol to enhance the effects of euphoria. Beans, pep pills, double trouble, black beauties, dexies, and speed are common street names given to this class of prescription drugs.
Benzodiazepines commonly referred to as “nerve pills” have been widely used since the 1960’s for alcohol withdrawal, anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. Benzodiazepines are also known for their strong addiction potential and have resulted in approximately 8,000 overdose deaths in 2015 in the United States. Their withdrawals alone can result in seizures and even death and therefore individuals taking benzodiazepines usually need to be slowly weaned in order to prevent deadly withdrawals. Benzodiazepines, commonly referred to as “benzos”, are commonly abused prescription medications that are known to “take the edge off” and are dangerously lethal when mixed with alcohol. There are short-acting, medium acting and long-acting benzodiazepines that are prescribed for different purposed, for example, long-acting benzodiazepines such as Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), Librium (chlordiazepoxide) are used to help alleviate symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal and seizure disorders whereas Xanax (alprazolam) a short-acting benzodiazepine is often used to treat acute anxiety or panic attacks. Medium or intermediate-acting common benzodiazepines such as Ativan (lorazepam) is commonly prescribed from seizure disorder and rarely prescribed as a short-term treatment for insomnia.
Prescription painkillers commonly known as opioids or narcotics are generally prescribed to treat severe short-term pain or pain associated with palliative care. However, opioids have the highest abuse potential and rate out of all prescription drugs. According to statistics, opioid dependence affects approximately five million individuals in the United States each year and is responsible for 17,000 deaths each year in the U.S. The abuse potential for opioids begins at a young age, usually during adolescence or early adulthood and continues into middle and late adulthood. Americans make up approximately five percent of the world’s population but are responsible for 80% of the consumption of the world’s opioid supply and therefore have one of the largest opioid crises in the world. Prescription opioids are majorly responsible for this crisis resulting in 46 deaths per day in 2012. Common prescription opioids include morphine, oxycodone, fentanyl, tramadol, hydrocodone, hydromorphone, and codeine.
Prescription stimulants, when not taken as prescribed, can have some serious side effects and addiction potential. The following are known side effects associated with this class of prescription drug abuse:
The side effects of benzodiazepine toxicity can range from drowsiness to respiratory depression and unresponsiveness. The combination of benzodiazepines and alcohol or benzodiazepines and alcohol can be deadly. The following are a full list of side effects resulting from benzodiazepine ingestion:
Different opioids affect the body at different rates. Some are fast acting meaning their effects take place in a short amount of time and are then eliminated from the body soon after where, medium and long acting opiates take longer to produce effects and stay in the body for a longer duration of time. Also there are different strengths depending on the specific type of opioid. For example, fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Regardless of the potency and duration of action, the signs and symptoms of opioid intoxication are all the same and are listed below: