Some of the most commonly abused and misused drugs in the country are prescription medications legally prescribed by doctors.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that around 18 million people misused prescription drugs in 2017.
In some cases, patients develop an addiction to their own medications, but in other situations, an unprotected family medicine cabinet can be easy access for a person looking to get “high.”
Unfortunately, the second category is made up primarily of teenagers and young adults, the two demographics most at risk for prescription drug abuse.
Understanding which medications are the most likely to be abused can help people secure their prescriptions and keep them out of sight and out of mind.
8 of the Most Abused Prescription Drugs
There are a variety of prescription medications that are commonly misused including opioids, antidepressants, and stimulants.
When used as directed, they can work wonders, but when used other than the way they were prescribed, they can lead to addiction and other negative health issues.
In no particular order, these are eight of the most frequently abused prescription drugs:
1. Ambien (Zolpidem)
Prescribed for the short-term treatment of insomnia, Ambien is a sedative that helps people to get, or maintain sleep.
Long-term use of zolpidem can lead to addiction because users develop a tolerance and will need higher doses of the drug to achieve the same results.
Ambien is often abused in conjunction with other drugs, such as alcohol, or for “coming down” off of the effects of stimulants like methamphetamine or cocaine.
2. Oxycontin (Oxycodone)
A narcotic pain reliever, Oxycontin, or oxycodone, is an opioid prescribed for moderate to severe pain and, according to one study, accounts for 80 percent of prescriptions to treat post-surgery pain.
It is highly addictive, despite pharmaceutical company claims in the mid 1990s when Oxycontin was introduced to the market. The marketing communication at the time said its time-release formula made dependency and abuse unlikely.
Ocycodone is widely abused and is the prescription painkiller most blamed for the start of the opioid epidemic.
3. Vicodin (Hydrocodone)
Generally prescribed to manage coughing and moderate pain, Vicodin (Hydrocodone) is an opioid that is the most frequently prescribed painkiller at around 84 million prescriptions in 2017, according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Vicodin is often abused with other substances, such as alcohol. Regular users quickly develop a tolerance to the medication and can unwittingly develop an addiction to the drug in a matter of weeks.
4. Ritalin (Methylphenidate)
A central nervous system stimulant, Ritalin is a medication usually prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and, in some cases, narcolepsy.
Because it increases energy and alertness, Ritalin is often abused on college campuses and sometimes in connection with alcohol.
The negative side effects are most pronounced in people without ADHD, while those who actually have the disorder don’t notice them and positively react to the medication.
5. Adderall (Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine)
A psychostimulant pharmaceutical, Adderall is a medication prescribed in cases similar to Ritalin and most often to teenagers.
It has gained popularity among users who work intense and long hours, as well as on college campuses where students need to pull “all-nighter” sessions to study for exams.
Adderall does provide a boost for those when they need it most, although it causes a dependence that can quickly lead to addiction.
6. Valium (Diazepam)
Categorized as a benzodiazepine, Valium is prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, as well as symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.
Users can quickly develop a tolerance with regular use, giving the drug a high likelihood for being habit forming.
People will often abuse or misuse Valium with alcohol, which can dangerously suppress the central nervous system and lead to overdose.
7. Xanax (Alprazolam)
Like diazepam, Xanax is a benzodiazepine prescribed for people struggling with anxiety or panic disorders.
It is similarly addictive and Xanax bars are often abused along with alcohol. In some cases, alcohol and Xanax will cause users to “black out” and be unable to remember what happened to them.
Benzodiazepine withdrawal is a very serious condition and can lead to death if not treated and monitored by a physician during a proper detox.
8. Fentanyl (Duragesic)
Most commonly prescribed for cancer patients with chronic pain, Fentanyl is an opioid, administered by patch or orally, and is 100 times more potent than morphine.
Not only is Fentanyl incredibly addictive it is deadly. Of the 70,200 drug overdose deaths in 2017, NIDA reports that fentanyl was responsible for the largest spike in deaths.
Fentanyl is now being added to illegal drugs sold on the street such as heroin, opioids, xanax, and even cocaine and meth to intensify the strength and high of those drugs. Most users and many drug dealers are unaware it has been mixed in with their supply and overdose and die.
Properly Dispose of Prescription Medications
Prescription medications have helped millions of people manage pain after surgery, overcome mental health issues, and be productive when dealing with disorders like ADHD.
But it can’t be overstated that when taken in a manner not prescribed by a doctor, they can cause a dependence, addiction, or even be fatal when abused.
It’s possible to stop taking many medications when not needed without any adverse effects. Others, like benzodiazepines, need to be taken until told by a doctor to stop or taper off.
Whatever the case, it’s necessary to properly dispose of any unneeded prescription medications so they don’t fall into the wrong hands and become drugs of abuse.
Many pharmacies now have drop off locations for disposal, and twice a year, in April and October, the DEA promotes National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day to safely dispose of them.