What is prescription drug abuse?

 infographic designed by hudson ysap media intern sophia t. (class of 2019)

infographic designed by hudson ysap media intern sophia t. (class of 2019)

Prescription drug abuse is the use of medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience of feelings elicited. Several national surveys found that prescription drugs are abused at rates second only to marijuana. The consequences of prescription drug abuse are steadily worsening, resulting in  increased treatment admissions, emergency room visits, and overdose deaths.

When youth were asked how they obtained prescription drugs for non-medical use, most said they were given the drugs or purchased them from a friend or relative. Additionally, youth who abuse prescription drugs are also more likely to report use of other drugs.

The risks for addiction to prescription drugs increase when medications are used in ways other than as prescribed (that is, at higher doses or combined with alcohol or other drugs).

What are the commonly abused prescription drugs?

While many medications can be abused, the following three classes are the most commonly abused:

Opioids (usually prescribed to treat pain)

  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
  • Morphine (Jadian, Avinza)
  • Codeine

Central nervous system (CNS) depressants (used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders)

  • Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax)
  • Non-benzodiazepine sleep medications (Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata)
  • Barbiturates (Mebaral, Nembutal)

Stimulants (most often prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

  • Dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines 

  • Cough suppressants
  • Sleep aids
  • Antihistamines

What are the consequences of prescription drug abuse?


  • Reduce intensity of pain signals that reach the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of pain stimulus.
  • Produce drowsiness, mental confusion, nausea, and depending on the amount of drug taken, can depress respiration.
  • Regular or long-term use or abuse can lead to physical dependence, and in some cases addiction.
  • A single large dose can cause severe respiratory depression and death.

CNS depressants

  • Can slow brain activity
  • During the first few days of using a CNS depressant, a person usually feels sleepy and uncoordinated, but as the body becomes accustomed to the effects of the drug and tolerance develops, these side effects begin to disappear, requiring larger doses to get the same effects.


  • Increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.
  • Repeated abuse of some stimulants can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia, even psychosis.
  • Taking high doses of a stimulant may result in dangerously high body temperature, an irregular heartbeat, and the potential for cardiovascular failure or seizures.


  • Cough syrups and cold medications are the most commonly abused and at high doses can act like PCP or ketamine, producing out-of-body experiences.

Hudson Police Department has a permanent 24/7 unwanted medication take-back kiosk for residents to safely dispose of these drugs.

Source: NIDA Research Report Series – Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction