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Prescription Drug Abuse

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse1 is the use of a medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience or feelings elicited. According to several national surveys, prescription medications, such as those used to treat pain, attention deficit disorders, and anxiety, are being abused at a rate second only to marijuana among illicit drug users. The consequences of this abuse have been steadily worsening, reflected in increased treatment admissions, emergency room visits, and overdose deaths.


1 Prescription drug abuse, as defined in this report, is equivalent to the term "nonmedical use," used by many of the national surveys or data collection systems. This definition does not correspond to the definition of abuse/dependence listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV).

This page was last updated October 2011

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