Recent news stories have highlighted the increasing number of teens and adults abusing prescription drugs, particularly painkillers.
For example, the National Institute on Drug Abuse's 2003 Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th graders found that 10.5 percent of 12th graders reported using Vicodin for non-medical reasons and 4.5 percent of 12th graders reported using OxyContin without a prescription.
Painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin are opiates and are very powerful medications against pain, but they need to be taken under close supervision of a doctor. These same medications when taken inappropriately can cause addiction for they act on the same places in the brain as does heroin.
These painkillers can be very effective in treating individuals with the medical need for these medications; however, using these drugs without the supervision of a physician or for purposes different from their intended use can lead to serious adverse consequences, including death from overdose.
As a physician, I want to raise awareness among other doctors about the potential for abuse of these drugs; however, I don't want to alarm them and their patients who have a legitimate medical need for painkillers and other prescription drugs.
I also want to remind young people, their parents and others that even though prescription drugs are medications, their improper use can have serious consequences. I'd encourage parents, grandparents, and other adults to check their medicine cabinets and to discard any prescription drugs that are no longer required to treat a medical condition so that these medications are not available to be misused.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
This page was last updated March 2004