When I was in medical school, the one thing I was told was completely wrong. The one I was told was, if you give opiates to a patient who is in pain, they will not get addicted. Completely wrong. Completely wrong. But a generation of doctors, a generation of us, grew up being trained that these drugs are riskyIn fact, they are risky.”

~Dr. Thomas Frieden, Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

The misuse of prescription drugs in the United States has been called “an epidemic” by the centers for disease control and prevention. Considering that the United States has just 5% of the world’s population, yet consumes 75% of all prescription drugs, “epidemic” might be a description that is unfortunately all too apt.

Numbers Don’t Lie

Take a look at some of these frightening statistics:

  • 52 million people in the United States aged 12 or older have used prescription medications for nonmedical reasons at some point in their lifetime
  • 1 million Americans have misused prescription drugs within the last month alone
  • in 2010, enough prescription pain pills were prescribed to effectively medicate every adult in the country every four hours for a solid month
  • every day in the United States, 2500 teenagers will abuse a prescription painkiller for the first time
  • the most-abused prescription drugs fall into three categories – painkillerstranquilizers, and stimulants
  • by 2012, fatalities due to prescription opioids increased to nearly 17,000 deaths per year
  • in 2009, 1 million emergency-room visits – over 45% of all drug-related visits – were directly attributable to prescription drug abuse or misuse
  • opioid pain relievers account for more drug poisoning fatalities than any other drug, including cocaine and heroin
  • by 2010, drug overdoses began to kill more Americans than motor vehicle accidents or firearms
  • in spite of all of that, 35% of Americans believe that prescription medications are safer than illicit drugs

Far Too Easily-Obtained

Contrary to the stereotype most people have of seedy, back-alley transactions, most people are able to obtain their abused prescription drugs much easier, even legitimately. Over 54% get their prescription drugs of abuse FREE from friends and family members, approximately 17% buy them from a friend or relative, and over 18% are able to obtain them from just one doctor, with no need to “shop around”.

An Infamous “Top 10 List” of the Most-Abused Prescription Medications


10. Klonopin (clonazepam) – This benzodiazepine tranquilizer was originally created as an anti-seizure medication, although it is now also used to treat anxiety, panic disorder, and akathisia. It can also be used as a treatment for alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

Klonopin is popular as a drug of abuse because it acts very quickly, usually within one hour, and the effects last up to 12 hours.


9. Fentanyl – Fentanyl is an extremely powerful opioid pain reliever, approximately 100 times more potent than morphine and up to 50 times more powerful than pharmaceutical-grade heroin.

Fentanyl is especially dangerous because it is sometimes misleadingly sold on the black market as heroin, and due to its much greater potency, it leads to many more deaths due to respiratory failure.


8. Ambien (zolpidem) – Typically prescribed for insomnia, Ambien acts quickly – usually within 15 minutes. Long-term usage of the drug can create a tolerance, which in turn creates the need for increased dosages.

At these higher doses, some users report a reduction in their anxiety levels and a mild euphoric “high”.

In 2013, United States Foods and Drug Administration mandated that the drug’s manufacturer cut the recommended dosages, particularly for women, because of next-day impairment and such problems as driving and performing other actions while sleeping.


7. Percocet – This is a combination of oxycodone and acetaminophen (Tylenol) that is used as a narcotic pain reliever to treat moderate-to-severe pain, intended for short-term use.

As with other opioid pain relievers, abusers can achieve a euphoric “high” when taking higher doses of Percocet. As with other opioids, this also increases the danger of death because of respiratory depression.

The Tylenol ingredient increases the effects of the oxycodone, but it does not magnify the abuse potential. It does, however, greatly raise the chances of liver damage.


6. Valium (diazepam) – Commonly prescribed to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, seizures, insomnia, restless leg syndrome, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms, Valium is a benzodiazepine that works on the brain to create a calming effect.

As with other benzodiazepine, Valium can create a tolerance and addiction that can be dangerous – even life-threatening – when the drug is abruptly discontinued.

Serious side effects include problems with coordination, depressed breathing, seizures, and even suicide. After discontinuation of the drug, cognitive problems can last over six months.


5. Adderall – Adderall is a stimulant that is most frequently prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It also has uses as a cognitive enhancer and to increase athletic performance, although the latter use is typically banned in organized sports.

Recreationally, abusers use the drug for its euphoric and aphrodisiacal effects.

At high doses, Adderall can result in psychosis, tachycardia, convulsions, and coma.


4. Suboxone (buprenorphine) – This is a synthetic opioid used to treat moderate to severe pain. Most commonly, Suboxone is used as a treatment for people addicted to actual opioids such as heroin.

Even though it is a synthetic, the side effects of Suboxone use/abuse are similar to those of actual opioids – dizziness, cognitive impairment, memory loss, extreme drowsiness, and at higher doses, possible death from respiratory depression.

Suboxone provides abusers with a mild “high” that can last more than 48 hours. Because the high is less than that of “regular” opiates, it is often used in combination with alcohol or benzodiazepines.


3. Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) – Also sold as Lortab or Norco, this is an opioid pain reliever used to treat chronic or post-operative pain. Vicodin does not actually decrease the source of the pain. Instead, it changes the user’s perception of pain.

That change in perception is what makes it so sought-after as a drug of abuse. Some of the desirable effects include a heightened sense of one’s own well-being and reduce stress and worry.

99% of the world’s hydrocodone consumption happens in the United States. It is the most commonly-prescribed opioid in the country, and, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency, it is the second-most encountered opioid medication found in submitted evidence


2. Xanax (alprazolam) – Xanax is a medication in the benzodiazepine class usually prescribed to treat various anxiety and panic disorders. In 2010, it was the twelfth-most prescribed medicine in the United States. It has a very fast onset – 90% of its peak effects are felt within the first hour.

Because of that rapid onset and because of its long-half-life, alprazolam is both the most-prescribed and most-abusedbenzodiazepine sold in the US.


1. OxyContin (oxycodone) – OxyContin is an opioid pain reliever typically prescribed for acute pain, and sometimes, chronic pain. More studies are beginning to show that it is a viable alternative for morphine when treating cancer pain.

As with other opioids, OxyContin carries a high potential for abuse, and to reduce withdrawal symptoms, it is often advised that it should be discontinued gradually with a tapering off of the dosages, rather than abrupt cessation. This is especially true when the drug has been taken over a long period for recreationally at greater-than-prescribed doses.

Prescription medication abuse is a real and growing problem in the United States. Not all people become dependent or expected upon description drugs do so because of recreational misuse. It is entirely possible to become accidentally dependent, simply by using the drug for too long a period of time.

Because abruptly quitting some of these drugs – especially benzodiazepine – can result in harshly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms that can even be potentially hazardous, it is always recommended that detoxification and withdrawal take place under the supervision of qualified medical personnel.

If you or someone you care about has a problem with the abuse of prescription medications, you owe it to yourselves and your future to contact professional addiction specialists today.

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