What is Prescription Drug Abuse:
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. Learn more
Also more about:
- DrugFacts: Cough and Cold Medicine Abuse
- Emerging Trends - "Sizzurp", "Purple Drank"
- Prescription Stimulants (Abuse) Health Effects
- Prescription Sedatives, sleeping pills*, or anxiolytics (Abuse) Health Effects
- Prescription Opioids (Abuse) Health Effects
- Over-the-counter Cough/Cold Medicines (Dextromethorphan or DXM) Health Effects
- Naloxone - a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose
Commonly Abused Drugs:
Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include opioids (for pain), central nervous system (CNS) depressants (for anxiety and sleep disorders), and stimulants (for ADHD and narcolepsy).
- Fentanyl (Duragesic®)
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin®)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin®)
- Oxymorphone (Opana®)
- Propoxyphene (Darvon®)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid®)
- Meperidine (Demerol®)
- Diphenoxylate (Lomotil®)
Central nervous system depressants include:
- Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal®)
- Diazepam (Valium®)
- Alprazolam (Xanax®)
- Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®)
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®)
- Amphetamines (Adderall®)
Statistics and Trends
Swipe left or right to scroll.
|Drug||Time Period||8th Graders||10th Graders||12th Graders|
|Any Prescription Drug||Past Year||-||-||12.90|
|Cough Medicine (non-prescription)||Past Year||1.60||3.30||4.60|
|Narcotics other than Heroin||Past Year||-||-||5.40|
The use of any prescription drug includes use of any of the following: amphetamines, sedatives (barbiturates), narcotics other than heroin, or tranquilizers “…without a doctor telling you to use them.”
Swipe left or right to scroll.
|Drug||Time Period||Ages 12 or Older||Ages 12 to 17||Ages 18 to 25||Ages 26 or Older|
|Psychotherapeutics (Nonmedical Use)||Past Year||7.10||5.90||15.30||5.80|
- HHS announces steps to address opioid related deaths and dependence
- CDC VitalSigns™ - Opioid Painkiller Prescribing
- CDC - Addressing Prescription Drug Abuse in the United States, Current Activities and Future Opportunities
- America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse (Testimony to Congress, May 2014)
- Prescription Opioid and Heroin Abuse (Testimony to Congress, April 2014)
- NIDA for Teens: Prescription Drug Use
- NIDA for Teens: PEERx
- Prescription Drugs poster
- Heads Up: Real News About Drugs and Your Body- Year 10-11 Compilation for Students
- Heads Up: Real News About Drugs and Your Body- Year 10-11 Compilation for Teachers
- Prescription Drugs of Abuse Chart
- Efforts of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to Prevent and Treat Prescription Drug Abuse (Testimony to Congress, July 2006)
- MEDLINEplus Health Information on Drug Abuse - National Library of Medicine, NIH
- www.abovetheinfluence.com - Office of National Drug Control Policy
- healthfinder.gov - U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Past information on many drugs of abuse is available on our Archives site.
Clinical trials are research studies in human volunteers conducted to answer specific health questions. Learn about the NIH-sponsored clinical trials available to you.
- NIDA Clinical Trial Locator - answer a few simple questions and get contact information for Clinical Trials near you.
Other Clinical Trials information sources:
- NIH Clinical Trials and You - NIH site that helps explain about clinical trials and why people participate.
- NIDA Trials at ClinicalTrials.gov - a resource of federally and privately supported clinical trials.
- Clinical Research Studies from the National Drug Abuse Treatment Clinical Trials Network (CTN) - a NIDA coordinated network of research institutions conducting human trials on drug abuse solutions.
- Research Studies at NIDA Intramural Research Program - located in Baltimore, Maryland.
Emerging Trends & Alerts
Get more information on Emerging Trends and Alerts, we will update this page with the latest research findings as they develop.
Get this Publication
Cite this article
APA style citation
NIDA (2011). Prescription Drugs & Cold Medicines. Retrieved , from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/prescription-drugs-cold-medicines
Prescribing Guideline for Opioids for Chronic Pain
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.
Safe Disposal of Medicines
Prescription Drug Abuse
Learn what you can do to
prevent medicine abuse at