There are prescription drugs that are commonly abused in the U.S. every day. Street drugs will often come with a stigma but prescription medications can also cause addiction. There is a variety of reasons for the increase of prescription addiction. Here is one example:
“Nearly two decades ago, health care professionals were urged to be more aggressive about treating pain. It also coincided with more options for opioid medications and an increase in direct-to-consumer advertising, which urged patients to go to their doctors and to seek opioids. The results have been devastating. Opioids are devastating communities and they are costing lives, and we cannot afford that any longer.” – US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy
Top 10 Most-Commonly Abused Prescription Medications
It’s important to note that this is not an indictment of prescription drugs. When used as directed, prescription medications can and do SAVE the lives of millions of people. They can improve lives for many millions more.
When irresponsibly prescribed or misused for non-medical reasons, certain prescription medications– particularly opioids, ADHD medications, and benzodiazepines – can and do TAKE lives, and ruin the lives of many millions more.
In less than a generation, the death rate due to fatal overdoses related to opioids has tripled, while benzodiazepine fatalities have increased at least fivefold.
Which Specific Prescription Drugs Are Used Most Often?
“Knowing thy enemy” is at least half the battle. Knowing which drugs are commonly abused, misused, and diverted allows you to use with caution. As prescription drugs have their purpose, it may be necessary to take them at one point. If you or someone you know should end up with one of these prescriptions, you’ll be aware of the risks of abusing them. When you can recognize which drugs are most often diverted, misused, and abused, you can be on guard when they are prescribed for you or for someone in your family.
The following prescription drugs are in no particular order of abuse. They are named by the name of the drug as opposed to the brand name. These are in no order, and they are listed by the name of the drug, rather than the brand-name.
1. Oxycodone (Opioid)
Medications that contain oxycodone include OxyContin and Percocet. This drug was first developed in 1916 and is about one-and-a-half times more potent than either hydrocodone or heroin. It is synthesized by chemical modification of specific molecules that come from the opium poppy. Oxycodone has similar effect to both legal and illegal opioids (like heroin).
Oxycodone is a prescription drug that is commonly abused due to the powerful high it gives. Oxycodone puts patients at risk for developing tolerance and dependence. Not only that but those addicted to drugs like oxycodone are 40 times more likely to eventually move to heroin abuse.
Desirable feelings that can cause one to abuse oxycodone include:
- A very relaxed feeling.
- A reduction in anxiety.
- Pain relief.
These are the feelings one will get when they take the drug as prescribed. It comes in liquid or pill form that will be immediate or controlled-release variations. It may be mixed with a variety of other medications as well. This can include acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen. There are street names for some of these prescription medications, which indicates high abuse on the streets. They include names like “oxy”, “blue”, “hillybilly heroin”, and “kickers.”
It has a high potential for abuse due to the positive feelings and reward sensations a person will experience when using. For recreational use, they will be ingested to gain an even greater high which can cause overdose.
Methods of abuse include:
Oxycodone tablets may be crushed and snorted. This will bypass the digestive tract so the effects of the drug will be felt more quickly. It’s considered to be more dangerous. The time-release oxycodone drug is even more dangerous to snort, resulting in death by overdose.
Users will melt down oxycodone tablets, dissolve them in water, and use a suppository or enema to put the solution in their rectum. The rate of absorption will be similar to oral ingestion but can help to avoid an upset stomach that commonly occurs when abusing opiates.
Some may dissolve oxycodone into a solution and then inject it into their veins/muscles. This puts the drug directly into the bloodstream. Abusing oxycodone this way puts the user most at risk of addiction. It is also the most dangerous method of abuse. Injecting any drugs can cause serious infections. Injecting pills can cause permanent heart and lung damage due to the non-active ingredients in the prescription medication.
2. Methylphenidate (ADHD stimulant)
Between 2012 and 2013, global consumption of this ADHD medication rose by 66%. The United States uses 80% of the world’s supply.
This psycho-stimulant drug works on the central nervous system and is commonly used to treat ADHD and ADD. The main brand names are Ritalin and Concerta. While it is highly effective for those who have ADHD and ADD, it is a stimulant like cocaine. Over time, it can cause changes in the brain and has a high potential for abuse. As it’s a legal prescription drug, users would assume it’s less dangerous.
Methylphenidate offers a high because it increases the activity of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure. When someone abuses it, it causes a feeling of excitement and a burst of energy much like cocaine. It’s been found that patients who have ADD will sometimes sell pills to other people. Ritalin costs about 50 cents when prescribed but the street value can be up to $20.
University students are known for abusing Methylphenidate to study for exams. As the drug is designed to help with focus and also give extra energy to stay up, it has a reputation as a good study drug. Some students will start chopping up the drug and snorting it like cocaine to get faster absorption. They report that it keeps you up for hours.
When abused, the feeling is more intense but the crash is harder. Once it’s worn off, it can cause fatigue and depression. When abused in this way, tolerance increases much faster and so addiction is much more likely. It’s a drug of recreational use commonly abused among teens because it’s cheap and accessible. As it’s known to have similar effects to cocaine, people are prone to abusing it and will snort or inject it. The method of abusing Methylphenidate makes it more addictive.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- Panic attacks
- Increase in appetite
3. Adderall (ADHD stimulant)
Adderall is a powerful stimulant that works on the central nervous system. It is the most commonly prescribed amphetamine but is a schedule II controlled substance. This is due to the high risk of addiction. Adderall is prescribed to treat ADHD as well as narcolepsy. Adderall increases the levels of dopamine in the brain which makes people feel good when they take it. This can create a rewarding effect that can lead to abuse this prescription drug.
Adderall will increase level of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine in the brain. The brain is sent the message that there are enough neurotransmitters present. It then stops producing them. This is why people will experience a crash once the drug has left the system. The more Adderall abuse occurs, the worse the crash and risk of addiction is more likely.
It comes in a tablet form with doses that range from 5mg to 30mg. One way that people will abuse Adderall is by crushing up the tablets and snorting it. They are sold on the streets for between $7-$10 for a 10mg tablet. They are known as speed, uppers, black beauties, and pep pills. Adderall is often purchased by those who need to study. Due to their addictive nature, a simple 10mg tablet for studying can turn into snorting Adderall. This is where the addiction sets in much faster.
The abuse of Adderall includes:
- Taking higher doses than prescribed.
- Taking it when it’s not prescribed to you.
- Using it for reasons others than the original medical need.
- Taking Adderall more frequently than prescribed.
- Purchasing it on the streets.
Risks of abusing the drug include developing a tolerance to it. You will then need more of the drug to get the same result. Tolerance will increase and eventually the initial high isn’t available. Dependency will occur after this if you don’t stop using it. The body won’t function optimally if you don’t have the Adderall in your system. You may have to continue using in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms include:
- An increase in appetite
- Body aches
- Unable to concentrate
- Night horrors
- Thoughts of suicide
Once dependency kicks in from abusing Adderall, addiction is a risk. This means you’ll exhibit compulsive drug seeking behavior. These behaviors can cause you to lose everything but you may continue using despite the consequences.
Adderall is a stimulant so it can begin to affect parts of your body negatively when chronically abused. Blood pressure and heart rate can increase which can lead to cardiac arrest. Body temperature can rise to dangerous levels when Adderall is abused.
4. Alprazolam (Benzodiazepine)
Marketed as Xanax, this drug is typically prescribed for panic or anxiety disorders. As a benzodiazepine, it is a depressant medication that slows down the body and mind. This results in a decrease of anxiety and greater relaxation. It is the most-prescribed and the most-abused benzodiazepine-class medication in the United States.
It works to block gamma receptors and hyperpolarize brain cells. Many antidepressants take time to reduce anxiety but benzodiazepines like Xanax work instantly. The drug produces a sedating, tranquilizing effect. They should only be used briefly, often just for the time that it takes for other antidepressants to kick in. When taken long-term, there is a concern for abuse that leads to addiction.
It is not only a commonly abused prescription drug for patients but also sells on the streets for recreational abuse. They are known as Zannies with a street price of $2 per 1mg, $4 for 2mg, and $6 for a Xanax bar.
For those with a high level of anxiety, they may abuse the drug to get the effects of euphoria that occurred when they first started taking Xanax. People will get addicted to the feeling and use more often. The more the drug is taken, the more likely tolerance develops.
Xanax is abused by snorting a tablet or chewing a Xanax bar. Taking more than what is prescribed is also another way you would abuse it. When one chews on Xanax, they get the drug into their saliva and bloodstream faster. Snorting will deliver the drug through the nose and mucus membrane to the bloodstream. This also gets the drug into the system more rapidly.
There are many people who will mix Xanax with other drugs. Xanax, being a tranquilizer, may be used as a means of self-medication to get rid of opiate or alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
There have been many overdoses due to abusing alcohol and benzodiazepines simultaneously.
Symptoms of withdrawal from Xanax can be quite uncomfortable and may require professional treatment:
- Greater anxiety than what was present before taking the drug.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Memory loss.
- Pain and tension in muscles.
- Tremors or seizures that can be deadly.
5. Clonazepam (Benzodiazepine)
Clonazapam, a commonly prescribed medication calms the mind where relaxation is possible and sleep can occur. Sold as Klonopin, this sedative hypnotic is used to treat seizures, movement disorders, and panic disorder, and is extremely addictive. One-third of everyone who uses it for more than four weeks will become dependent. It is the second-most mentioned medication in emergency room visits.
This prescription sedative medication is useful for alleviating anxiety and as an anti-convulsant drug. For those who suffer from panic attacks, it can be highly effective. It works to slow down functions in the body that would cause convulsions or anxiety. It is widely prescribed but is only considered to be effective for a very short amount of time.
Clonazepam is addictive due to how it works on the nerve cells in the brain. It increases the effects of GABA, which is a brain chemical that produces relaxation. The user will feel more relaxed than what would normally be possible. This can make a person want to continue use especially when suffering from debilitating anxiety. This is where psychological dependency occurs which can potentially lead to the inability to be calm without with the drug.
Clonazepam will begin to settle in the brain and cause a person’s behavior to change. It can bring about mood swings and can even lead to brain damage. Abusing this drug is extremely dangerous for this reason. There is also the risk of depression when trying to withdraw from the drug. The brain begins to need it to function properly.
Even for those who are prescribed Klonopin and taking it as prescribed are at risk of dependency. So when abused, there is a much bigger risk. Some may snort the drug for faster absorption and a greater high. On the streets, Klonopin sells for $2 per 1mg.
Some will use Klonopin with alcohol or opioids which increases the danger of abuse.
It’s important that you don’t try to quit “cold turkey” once you’ve become dependent on Clonazepam. It provides a neurotransmitter your body needs. Stopping can create seizures. Getting medical detox will be necessary and ease withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms of this commonly abused prescription drug include:
- High blood pressure.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Possible seizures.
- Inability to sleep.
- Suicidal thoughts.
There is often a post-acute withdrawal phase that some may experience. It can include depression, anxiety and the possibility of panic attacks. These can last for up to two years after the last time a person used Klonopin.
6. Hydrocodone (Opioid)
The United States consumes 99% of this potent painkiller, most often sold under the brand names Vicodin or Lortab. Hydrocodone is nearly as strong as morphine. It is a pain killer that is included in a variety of prescription painkillers. They would primarily be prescribed for those with moderate to severe pain. As hydrocodone is an opiate drug, it has a high potential for dependency and addiction. It is a commonly abused prescription drug for those who are addicted to heroin. It also hooks the average Joe into addiction.
As a pain management medication, doctors only prescribe hydrocodone to patients who have undergone surgery, who are suffering from terminal diseases or have been severely injured. Still, despite the fact that it’s not widely prescribed, it does make it’s way onto the streets. It’s also something to consider that other people in a household may be prone to taking prescriptions from a medicine cabinet. While it costs about $5 per pill when hydrocodone is prescribed, the street selling rate is $20.
Hydrocodone causes a flood of dopamine into your system which causes feelings of euphoria. You feel good which works on the reward center in the brain. This can create the desire to keep on using the drug even if you don’t need it. When you continue to use hydrocodone, it can lead to tolerance. This means you need to take more to get the same effect. It happens very quickly with opioid drugs of any kind. Once tolerance like this has set it, it can easily become addiction.
This becomes compulsive and despite what you stand to lose, you’ll continue use until you get help.
Withdrawal symptoms of hydrocodone:
- Joint and muscle pain.
- Shakes and cold flashes.
The symptoms will begin a few hours after the last dose. Extended-release hydrocodone painkillers will stay in the body for longer so the withdrawal symptoms will take longer to kick in.As it’s an opioid, the withdrawal symptoms can be a lot like heroin or oxycodone. Supervised detox is often recommended in these cases. Symptoms of withdrawal will last for a week or longer.
7. Fentanyl (Opioid)
Sold as Actiq or Duragesic, this is an extremely powerful painkiller that is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine, and up to 50 times more powerful than pharmaceutical-grade heroin. This means that when the drug is used recreationally, death by overdose can be common. Many people may not be aware they’re abusing fentanyl. It is often put into heroin because of it’s potency, making it cheaper to manufacture heroin.
Fentanyl is meant to treat sudden episodes of pain that occur even when they’re receiving pain medication around the clock. It is used for cancer patients who are used to the effects of opiate pain medication. It changes the way the brain and nervous system respond to pain.
The sudden, rapid spread of fentanyl has given traffickers a higher profit margin but has caused many people to overdose from heroin. They would take the same dose as normal but with the unmeasured fentanyl to heroin ratio, it can cause sudden death. Traffickers can get a kilogram of fentanyl powder for about $2,000 from Chinese suppliers. This can be transformed into about 500,000 pills. Fentanyl or related compounds are being sold for $10-$20 per pill on the streets.
Fentanyl works like other opioid drug, binding to opioid receptors found in the part of the brain that controls pain and emotions. They cause dopamine levels to rise which produces euphoria and a relaxed feeling. The DEA has stated that 1 out of every 10 teens have used prescription pain medications to get high at least once in the last year. Teens and drug addicts alike are purchasing this powerful opioid on the streets because it’s cheap. In its purest form, as little as two milligrams can cause someone to overdose.
It is addictive like heroin and can cause withdrawal symptoms that include:
- A loss in appetite.
- Flu like symptoms – fever, chills, sweating, nausea, vomiting, runny nose, and diarrhea.
- Intense cravings.
8. Codeine (Opiate)
Codeine can most often be found in cough syrups, and is the most widely used opiate on the planet. As “purple drank”, it is consumed by abusers who drink it for its rapid effects. It is considered an “opiate”, rather than an “opioid”, because it can occur naturally. The fact that it’s so available makes it one of the more commonly abused prescription drugs. Codeine may be less potent that the like of morphine, it can still cause addiction for those who abuse it.
It is a prescription pain medication that is used for mild to moderate pain, making it a more prescribed drug for general pain. Codeine is the main ingredient in prescription-grade cough suppressants. Tylenol 3 is codeine mixed with acetaminophen which is a pain reliever. Codeine is a fairly innocent drug to administer. It’s not as regulated as other opiates however because it’s not considered as dangerous. This makes it easier to get and abuse.
The effects are similar to morphine when abused and codeine dependency is considered a gateway to more a more serious opioid addiction. Codeine isn’t considered as powerful or addictive as the other opiate family members. They are widely abused for their slight euphoric effects and are often mixed with other substance like alcohol. As codeine and alcohol are both central nervous system depressants, combining them can cause a person to stop breathing.
Codeine abuse can include crushing up the tablet and snorting it. This allows the drug to bypass the digestive system and be absorbed into the bloodstream. The drug then travels to the brain more quickly. Perhaps the more popularized method of abusing codeine widely is “purple drank.” This is a slang term for a mixture of prescription-strength cough syrup, soft drinks, and a Jolly Rancher candy. The amount of cough syrup used will often exceed up to 25 times the recommended dose. It was popular especially in the 1990’s by the hip hop community and would often be mentioned in songs. Street names for codeine include schoolboy, coties, and t-three’s.
9. Morphine (Opiate)
Over the last 20 years, the use of this opiate directly for pain has increased. Western cultures – the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, and Germany – consume approximately 80% of the world’s supply of morphine. Morphine is the primary chemical component that is found in the opium plant.
Used to treat severe pain, some have said it’s the purest of pain relievers but it is also extremely addictive. Abusing morphine can cause a high that brings euphoria, reduced tension, relaxation, and the absence of pain. The body will develop a tolerance to the drug quickly. Brain patterns develop that cause a person to obsess as to when they’ll get to use morphine again. Even when taken for medical purposes, patients can quickly become dependent and abuse this potent opioid.
When morphine is taken in excess doses or combined with other substances, it can be fatal. The most commonly prescribed dosage of morphine is a 30mg pill. Morphine also comes in a liquid form to use intravenously in a medical capacity. As far as abuse goes, pills may be snorted or more than the prescribed amount will be ingested. If someone gains access to the liquid form, they can inject it into their muscles or veins. This will give them a faster high.
The withdrawal symptoms of morphine are extremely uncomfortable so medical detox is usually recommended.
Symptoms of withdrawal from morphine commonly include:
- Stomach pain.
- Flu-like symptoms – chills, runny nose, joint and muscle pain, and chills.
- Rapid heartbeat.
10. Diazepam (Benzodiazepine)
This drug is most recognizable under the brand name Valium, and it is one of the world’s most-prescribed medications. It is used for anxiety, sleeping troubles, seizures, and, oddly enough, withdrawal from alcohol or other benzodiazepines. A study conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration determined that diazepam was present in almost 29% of all emergency room visits for non-medical use of pharmaceuticals.
Diazepam comes in 5mg and 10mg doses. It was once the drug of choice for house wives in the 1970’s but is still well known today. It has often been mixed with alcohol, further depressing the respiratory system and brain. It calms the mind and makes a person feel completed relaxed. For those who have issues sleeping, diazepam is a commonly prescribed medication. It helps to relieve anxiety that can keep one up at night.
Valium is addictive because of the way it works on the brain. GABA is increased which is the brain chemical that relaxes you. As a result, you’ll feel much more calm which can create a psychological dependency on it.
To abuse Valium, some may snort or chew it for quicker absorption. This will cause more risk of addiction. On the streets, Valium sells for $1 per 5mg pill and $2 for a 10mg pill. As a benzodiazepine, it shouldn’t be quit “cold turkey” if there is a serious dependency on the drug. Seizures may occur. A tapering schedule may be necessary.
Withdrawal symptoms of Diazepam include:
- High blood pressure.
- Rapid heart rate.
- Possible seizures.
- Inability to sleep.
- Suicidal thoughts.
There are other prescription drugs that are abused. Whatever type of drug abuse it is, it’s important that someone with an addiction get the help they need. Treatment timelines will vary from person to person as well as the type of prescription medication addiction. For example, a Klonopin addiction can still be felt years after the last dose taken.
This is why rehabilitation after detox matters. Past that, long-term group meetings are recommended to keep you focused and get the support you need.
If you live in Colorado and you or someone you care about needs help for a substance abuse disorder manifesting as prescription medication abuse, contact AspenRidge Recovery TODAY.
By using a proven strategy, that incorporates the best Evidence-Based Treatment protocols, accepted 12-Step principles, and cutting-edge alternative therapies, AspenRidge can be the best source of health, help, and hope for you and your family.