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Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most

Infographic - see text below for description

Text Description of Infographic

Young adults (age 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription (Rx) opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. They do it for all kinds of reasons, including to get high, or because they think Rx stimulants will help them study better. But Rx abuse is dangerous: In 2010, almost 3,000 young adults died from prescription drug (mainly opioid) overdoses—more than died from overdoses of any other drug, including heroin and cocaine combined—and many more needed emergency treatment.

Top Graph: The nonmedical use of prescription drugs is highest among young adults. Past year nonmedical use of prescription drugs is shown on a bar chart by age group. Seven percent of 12- to 17- year-olds, 13 percent of 18- to 25- year-olds, and 4 percent of persons age 26 or older, used prescription drugs nonmedically in the past year.

Middle Graph: Three thousand young adults died from Rx drug overdose in 2010–a 250% increase from 1999,  that’s 8 persons per day.  A line graph shows prescription-drug-related overdose deaths increasing among persons ages 18- to 25- years-old from 833 deaths in 1999 to 2,908 deaths in 2010.

Bottom Figure: Among young adults, for every death due to Rx drug overdose, there were 17 treatment admissions6 and 66 emergency room visits7.


1. SAMHSA, NSDUH; 2. Rabiner et al 2009; 3. McCabe et al 2007; 4. Lord et al 2011; 5. CDC Wonder; 6. SAMHSA, TEDS; 7. SAHMSA, DAWN

Related Publications

Publication Cover

Prescription Drug Abuse (Research Reports)

Published July 2001. Revised October 2011. 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. En Español

Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications (DrugFacts)

Published June 2009. Revised September 2014. Provides an overview of commonly abused over the counter (OTC) medications and  prescription drugs—opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants—and explains how they affect the brain, treatments available, and reported use. En Español

Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse (DrugFacts)

Revised May 2014. Provides facts about the abuse of cough syrups and other cold medicines, including their effects on the brain and dangers of using these products to get high.

Nationwide Trends (DrugFacts)

Published April 2011. Revised January 2014. Examines nationwide trends in drug abuse and addiction among youth, describing lifetime, past year and past month use for alcohol, tobacco, illicit drugs, and prescription drugs. En Español

Stimulant ADHD Medications - Methylphenidate and Amphetamines (DrugFacts)

Published June 2009. Revised January 2014. Offers basic facts about stimulant ADHD medications—methylphenidate and amphetamines—including their role in the treatment of ADHD, their affect on the brain, and the extent of abuse. En Español

This page was last updated June 2013