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
- Prescription drug misuse is highest among young adults ages 18 to 25. 14.4 percent of this age group misused prescription drugs in the past year.
- Prescription drugs are one of the top drugs of choice among 12th-grade students, following alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco.
- Youth who use prescription drugs are also more likely to smoke cigarettes, engage in heavy drinking, and use illicit drugs, including marijuana and cocaine.
- Drug overdoses are a leading cause of injury-related death in the U.S. More than 67,000 people die every year from drug overdoses with 70% of those deaths due to an opioid drug.
- More than 80 percent of people ages 57 to 85 use at least one prescription medication daily and more than half take more than five daily. This increases their risk of those drugs interacting poorly with one another as well as their risk of accidentally taking one medication too often or of intentionally misusing a drug.
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.
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:
- A parent looking for tips to raise your children in the know about substance misuse,
- A community leader looking to create or join an anti-drug coalition,
- A college- or university-based health and wellness professional looking to improve the lives of your students,
- A family grieving the loss of a loved one to an overdose,
- An adult ally who empowers young people to lead their peers in prevention,
- A youth leader in prevention creating a better school and better community,
- An advocate wanting to create a better world for all,
- Or a volunteer or donor wanting to support the initiatives of Prevention Action Alliance.
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.