What Are Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs fall into three main classifications: pain killers (opioid drugs), stimulant drugs, and those used for anti-anxiety or muscle relaxants (benzodiazepines).

Medications are used by nearly everyone at some time in life. They are essential for treating many ailments and most of us will take them for various purposes in our lifetime. A serious concern today is that of abuse of prescription drugs. Abuse occurs when these drugs are taken for other than prescribed reasons. This can mean taking more of the drug than prescribed, taking it more often, using the drug for a condition other than the one it is prescribed to treat, using someone else’s drugs, saving leftover prescription medication and giving or selling it to someone else, transporting these medications without the prescription or after the prescription has expired, and numerous other violations of the use of prescription drugs.

The Basics

What are the prescription drugs of abuse? How are they differentiated?

There are three classifications of medications that are most frequently prescribed and abused. These are pain medications called opioids, depressants affecting the central nervous system (sedatives and anti-anxiety medications), and stimulant drugs, used primarily for treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy and obesity. Some of the most common are listed below:

Opioid drugs: Morphine, Demerol, Lomotil, OxyContin, Opana, Darvon, Vicodin, Methadone.

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants (also called benzodiazepines): Xanax, Valium, Nembutal; also hypnotics (used as sleep aids) such as Zolpidem and Ambien

Stimulants: Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine, Concerta

Effects of Prescription Drugs

What each one is and what each one does

Opioids: Effects are drowsiness, lack of motivation to perform once-enjoyed and pleasurable tasks, loss of coordination and balance, decreased heart rate and constipation.

Stimulants: Rapid breathing and heart rate, rapid speech, increased activity and movement, loss of appetite and weight, restlessness, insomnia.

Benzodiazepines: Slurred speech, dulled and slowed responses, lethargy, drowsiness.

Prescription Drugs: Dosage and Amounts Taken

How much is in a dose? What is a lethal amount or overdose?

Doses of these drugs are determined by the doctor on a patient-by-patient basis. Long-term use of them increases the certainty for abuse and dependence. As dependence develops, the user will increase doses until the risk of overdose may become more likely. The amount of each dose for each drug will be determined by the purpose for which the medication is prescribed and the person for whom it is intended. A pharmacist or physician should be consulted on these matters.

Dangers and Long-Term Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

Risk of overdose, increased heart rates and high blood pressure, what are the long-term effects of use?

Abuse of these drugs can be life-endangering and fatal. Overdose on any of these drugs is a serious risk. Long-term use will have consequences that are dependent on doses and time spent in use.

Prescription Drugs Addiction and Tolerance

How addictive are they? Is addiction a myth? Do I have a problem? Signs and indications of abuse and dependency.

From the first use, both opioid drugs and stimulant drugs increase the user’s sense of well-being and create a euphoric response that is pleasurable. This alone can create a desire to use more and more of the drug. Psychological dependence is another risk of taking prescription medications, because the user may develop a “need” for the drug, imagining pain or anxiety that would not normally exist.

Prescription Drug Overdose

What are the signs of an overdose? What to do if you spot symptoms of an overdose.

Because the symptoms are different for each class of drugs, it is imperative that you determine what the person has taken. Signs of overdose may include, but are not limited to heart rate stopping or racing, unconsciousness, inability to find a pulse on the user, severe nausea or throwing up, cold perspiration or seizures. Call for emergency help immediately and do your best to find evidence of what they may have used, drank or taken.

If you or someone you are with show signs of a drug overdose, call emergency services immediately. The drug emergencies resource page has a list of US Poison Control Centers and addiction resources that may be of help in an emergency. We also recommend that you consider seeking treatment once the emergency is over.

If you or someone you are with show signs of a drug overdose, calling your local emergency line is recommended. Our drug emergencies resource page has a list of US poison control centers and addiction resources that could help you in an emergency. We also recommend that you consider seeking treatment once the emergency is over.

Mixing with Other Drugs

What are the effects of mixing prescription drugs with alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs?

Taking prescription drugs with other drugs can be a fatal cocktail. Depending on the medication and its dose, mixing pain killers with benzodiazepines is the riskiest of combinations. Alcohol mixed with either of those is also extremely dangerous. Most often, deaths, whether they are intentional suicides or accidental overdoses, occur with any combination of two of these three (sometimes all three) ingredients. Mixed with stimulant drugs, alcohol or other prescription medications may become deadly as the heart of the user becomes overwhelmed with signals to stop and go. This increased stress on the heart can cause serious damage and/or death.

Drug Tests and Detox

What are the tests used? How long do prescription drugs stay in my system? How do I get off these drugs?

A battery of tests can be done to determine drug use. The most common is the urine specimen test. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to all types of testing. Because we are talking about various classifications of drugs, the length of time they remain in the system varies, according to the specific drug.

Detoxification for prescription drugs can be a complex issue. Depending on length of time the drug(s) have been used, the rate and type of detox system used will vary. For stimulant drugs, there is no need for medication or medical supervision. While unpleasant and uncomfortable, there is no serious threat of withdrawal symptoms. Depression and drowsiness are the two most common symptoms of withdrawal from stimulant drugs.

Detoxification from pain medication can be different, depending on the individual, length of use and amounts being used. It is best to do this detox under medical supervision.

Detoxification from benzodiazepines can be very dangerous. Even short-term use can create the need for careful titration of the drug from the system of the user. Medical supervision is recommended in all cases for this type of detox. Titration of the drug is the most common method for detox; decreasing the dose of the medication at regular intervals to avoid the serious side effects that occur with stopping these medications.

Legality, The Laws of Possession, Use, and Distribution

Is it illegal to give other people my prescription drugs? If I don't have a prescription, is it illegal to be in possession of certain prescription drugs?

When not prescribed by a doctor for use by the person with the drugs, possession of any quantity is considered illegal in the UK, Canada, and the US. Each country has agencies responsible for upholding the severe restrictions for production and dispensing of narcotics legally. Most US states have additional drug regulations that determine sentences for illegal use of Prescription Medications. Penalties for possession and for trafficking are subject to the laws of each country. Many of the charges for violating prescription drug legislation are felonies.

Medicinal Use

What are the medicinal uses of these drugs?

Opioid medications are used for relief of pain of many types. Stimulant medications are intended for use to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, infrequently used for assistance in weight loss. Benzodiazepine drugs are used to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, and to aid in sleep or as muscle relaxants.

In the Media

Prescription drugs in the news:

While drug overdoses have been headline news since the 1950s, with the accidental deaths of stars like Judy Garland and Marilyn Monroe, recent events have been more noteworthy as the increase in prescription drug overdose (accidental or otherwise) has surpassed auto accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in this country.

Frequently Asked Questions

If your doctor prescribes them, why aren't they safe?

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A number of questions are commonly asked about prescription drugs and their effects, its origins. From the ordinary and logical line of questions to the often bizarre, we present answers to questions... about these drugs.

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