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Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter Medicines

What are Over-the-Counter Medicines?

Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines are those that can be sold directly to people without a prescription. OTC medicines treat a variety of illnesses and their symptoms including pain, coughs and colds, diarrhea, constipation, acne, and others. Some OTC medicines have active ingredients with the potential for misuse at higher-than-recommended dosages. Read the DrugFacts

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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).

Opioids include:

  • 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®)

Stimulants include:

  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®)
  • Amphetamines (Adderall®)

Statistics and Trends

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Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs for 8th Graders, 10th Graders, and 12th Graders; 2017 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period 8th Graders 10th Graders 12th Graders
Any Prescription Drug Past Year - - 10.90
Adderall Past Year 1.30 4.00 5.50
Amphetamine Past Year 3.50 5.60 5.90
Cough Medicine (non-prescription) Past Year 2.10 3.60 3.20
Narcotics other than Heroin Past Year - - 4.20
OxyContin Past Year 0.80 2.20 2.70
Ritalin Past Year [0.40] 0.80 1.30
Tranquilizers Past Year 2.00 4.10 4.70
Vicodin Past Year 0.70 1.50 [2.00]
*Additional data (Past Month, Lifetime) available.

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.”

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National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Trends in Prevalence of Psychotherapeutics (Nonmedical Use) for Ages 12 or Older, Ages 12 to 17, Ages 18 to 25, and Ages 26 or Older; 2016 (in percent)*
Drug Time Period Ages 12 or Older Ages 12 to 17 Ages 18 to 25 Ages 26 or Older
Psychotherapeutics (Nonmedical Use) Lifetime - - - -
Past Year 6.90 5.30 14.50 5.90
Past Month 2.30 1.60 4.60 2.00

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Past information on many drugs of abuse is available on our Archives site.

Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies in human volunteers conducted to answer specific health questions. Learn about the NIH-sponsored clinical trials available to you.

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Cite this article

NIDA. (). Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter Medicines. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/prescription-drugs-over-counter-medicines

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