Learn About Prescription Drug Misuse

Prescription drugs are meant to help us, but they can also harm us. When prescription drugs are misused, they can cause serious harm, even death, to those who misuse them. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2017 an estimated 18 million people misused prescription drugs.

Despite their beneficial effects, many prescription drugs also have negative effects, and the effects of overdosing can be fatal. As prescription drug misuse has increased, so have prescription-drug-related emergency room visits and overdose deaths.

Key Facts about Prescription Drug Misuse

Learn more about prescription drug misuse and your role in prevention. Sign up to receive the Prevention Action Alliance newsletter.

Opioids—Prescription Pain Relievers

Opioids are a type of prescription drug that attach to opioid receptors in the brain to block the brain from sending pain messages to the rest of the body. There are many kinds of opioids, including, but not limited to, methadone, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Opioid pain relievers are the most commonly misused class of prescription drug followed by depressants and stimulants.

Anyone who uses prescription opioids can contract opioid use disorder. Other side effects include increased tolerance, dependence, sensitivity to pain, constipation, nausea and vomiting, sleepiness, dizziness, confusion, depression, low levels of testosterone, and itching or sweating.

Unfortunately, only one in four people who need treatment for opioid use disorder will get it, according to the American Psychiatric Association. Treating opioid use disorder can involve medication-assisted treatment, self-help programs, and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Get resources for preventing prescription drug misuse and playing your role in prevention by signing up for the Prevention Action Alliance newsletter.

Everyone Has a Role in Prevention. Find Yours. Join Prevention Action Alliance.

At Prevention Action Alliance, we are dedicated to leading healthy communities in the prevention of substance misuse and the promotion of mental health wellness. We’re building a world where every community has access to high-quality prevention resources and where all know their role in prevention.

To build that world, we need your help. Everyone has a role in prevention. It takes a community to create safe and healthy environments for our children, and we’d like to invite you to join the Prevention Action Alliance, whether you’re a:

Whoever you are, we invite you to find your role in prevention. Below on this page, you’ll find resources about prescription drug misuse from us at Prevention Action Alliance, our Prescription Drugs & You public health campaign, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Food and Drug Administration. Feel free to use these resources to find your role and do your part.


If you’re concerned about you or someone else, get help at findtreatment.gov.