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NIDA

Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Abuse

Examines the non-medical use of prescription drugs—opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants—describing adverse health effects of their use and the prevention and treatment of addiction.

Published: July 2001
Revised: October 2011

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

Some medications have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties and, because of that, are sometimes abused—that is, taken for reasons or in ways or amounts not intended by a doctor, or taken by someone other than the person for whom they are prescribed. In fact, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are, after marijuana (and alcohol), the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older.

Nationwide Trends

A major source of information on substance use, abuse, and dependence among Americans aged 12 and older is the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Following are facts and statistics on substance use in America from 2012, the most recent year for which NSDUH survey data have been analyzed.

Drug-Related Hospital Emergency Room Visits

National estimates on drug-related visits to hospital emergency departments (ED) are obtained from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN),1,2 a public health surveillance system managed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). DAWN data* are based on a national sample of general, non-Federal hospitals operating 24-hour Emergency Departments (EDs).

Stimulant ADHD Medications - Methylphenidate and Amphetamines

Stimulant medications including amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin and Concerta) are often prescribed to treat children, adolescents, or adults diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Opioids and Chronic Pain—A Gap in Our Knowledge

Opioid prescriptions have increased three-fold over the past two decades, and we have seen how this skyrocketing availability of medications has helped create a new drug abusing population, some of whom suffer severe health consequences. More deaths now occur as a result of overdosing on prescription opioids than from all other drug overdoses combined, including heroin and cocaine. The opioid epidemic is tied closely to another epidemic in our country, that of chronic pain—although the ties are very complex.

Although Relatively Few, “Doctor Shoppers” Skew Opioid Prescribing

One out of every 143 U.S. patients who received a prescription for an opioid painkiller in 2008 obtained prescriptions from multiple physicians in a pattern that suggests misuse or abuse of the drugs.

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