Prescription drug abuse
Recreational use of prescription drugs is a serious problem with teens and young adults. National studies show that a teen is more likely to have abused a prescription drug than an illegal street drug.
Many teens think prescription drugs are safe because they were prescribed by a doctor. But taking them for nonmedical use to get high or “self-medicate” can be just as dangerous and addictive as taking illegal street drugs.
There are very serious health risks in taking prescription drugs. Therefore, they are taken only under the care of a doctor. And even then, they must be closely monitored to avoid addiction or other problems.
Many pills look the same. It is extremely dangerous to take any pill that you are uncertain about or was not prescribed for you. People can also have different reactions to drugs due to the differences in each person’s body chemistry. A drug that was okay for one person could be very risky, even fatal, for someone else.
Prescription drugs are only safe for the individuals who have the prescriptions for them and not to be abused by the patient or anybody else.
Due to their potential for abuse and addiction, many prescription drugs have been categorized by the US Drug Enforcement Administration in the same category as opium or cocaine. These include Ritalin and Dexedrine (stimulants), and the painkillers OxyContin, Demerol and Roxanol.
Many illegal street drugs were at one time used or prescribed by doctors or psychiatrists but were later banned when the evidence of their harmful effects could no longer be ignored. Examples are heroin, cocaine, LSD, methamphetamine and Ecstasy.
Abuse of prescription drugs can be even riskier than the abuse of illegally manufactured drugs. The high potency of some of the synthetic (man-made) drugs available as prescription drugs creates a high overdose risk. This is particularly true of OxyContin and similar painkillers, where overdose deaths more than doubled over a five-year period.
Many people don’t realize that distributing or selling prescription drugs (other than by a doctor) is a form of drug dealing and as illegal as selling heroin or cocaine, with costly fines and jail time. When the drug dealing results in death or serious bodily injury, dealers can face life imprisonment.
Types of abused prescription drugs
Prescription drugs that are taken for recreational use include the following major categories:
- Depressants: Often referred to as central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) depressants, these drugs slow brain function. They include sedatives (used to make a person calm and drowsy) and tranquilizers (intended to reduce tension or anxiety).
- Opioids and morphine derivatives: Generally referred to as painkillers, these drugs contain opium or opium-like substances and are used to relieve pain.
- Stimulants: A class of drugs intended to increase energy and alertness but which also increase blood pressure, heart rate and breathing.
- Antidepressants: Psychiatric drugs that are supposed to handle depression.
Sometimes called “downers,” these drugs come in multi-coloured tablets and capsules or in liquid form. Some drugs in this category, such as Zyprexa, Seroquel and Haldol, are known as “major tranquilizers” or “antipsychotics,” as they are supposed to reduce the symptoms of mental illness. Depressants such as Xanax, Klonopin, Halcion and Librium are often referred to as “benzos” (short for benzodiazepines). Other depressants, such as Amytal, Numbutal and Seconal, are classed as barbiturates—drugs that are used as sedatives and sleeping pills. Some of the well-known brand and street names can be found here.
depressants: short-term effects:
- Slow brain function
- Slowed pulse and breathing
- Lowered blood pressure
- Poor concentration
- Slurred speech
- Visual disturbances
- Dilated pupils
- Disorientation, lack of coordination
- Difficulty or inability to urinate
Higher doses can cause impairment of memory, judgment and coordination, irritability, paranoia, and suicidal thoughts. Some people experience the opposite of the intended effect, such as agitation or aggression.
Using sedatives (drugs used to calm or soothe) and tranquilizers with other substances, particularly alcohol, can slow breathing and the heart rate and even lead to death.
depressants: long-term effects
Tolerance to many depressants can develop rapidly, with larger doses needed to achieve the same effect. The user, trying to reach the same high, may raise the dose to a level that results in coma or death by overdose.