Myths and Lies: Prescription Drugs 

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What is prescription drug abuse?  Most people take medicine only for the reasons their doctors prescribe them. But an estimated 20 percent of people in the United States have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons. This is prescription drug abuse. It is a serious and growing problem. ( Prescription Facts. Retrieved July 2014)

What is the difference between prescription medications and OTC medications?

(Consumer Resources for You: Federal Drug Administration, September 2013)  A medication is a substance intended for use in the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease. The main differences between over-the-counter (OTC) medications and prescription medications are: 

Prescription medications are:

  • Prescribed by a doctor 
  • Bought at a pharmacy 
  • Prescribed for/intended to be used by one person 
  • Regulated by FDA
OTC medications are:
  • Medications that do NOT require a doctor's prescription 
  • Bought off-the-shelf in stores 
  • Regulated by FDA

How can prescription medications be dangerous if the FDA has said they are safe and then doctors are prescribing them to patients?

  • It is unsafe AND illegal to take a prescription medication unless it has been prescribed FOR YOU. It is also illegal to share your prescription medications with others. 

  • Prescriptions are strong medicines. They are designed to change the way the body works. They can relieve pain; control symptoms and help people heal. But they are unsafe when taken differently than directed by your doctor. They must be used under a doctor’s care. 

  • Whether you realize it or not, using one of these medications without a doctor’s order is drug abuse.

“Abuse” vs. “Misuse”… Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains that the difference between abuse and misuse has to do with the individual’s intentions or motivations. For example, when a person takes a prescription medication to get a pleasant or euphoric feeling (ie, to “get high”), especially at higher doses than prescribed, that is an example of drug abuse.  Combating Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Drugs: Q&A with Michael Klein, Ph.D. FDA Consumer Updates (July 28, 2010)

According to FDA, prescription drug misuse may involve not following medical instructions, but the person taking the medication is not looking to “get high.” For example, if a person isn’t able to fall asleep after taking a single sleeping pill, he or she may take another pill an hour later, thinking, “That will do the job.” Or a person may offer his headache medication to a friend who is in pain.

Prescription Abuse Facts ( Prescription Drugs.  Retrieved July 2014)

  • They CAN harm the body. Taking too much of a prescription medication or using it with other drugs or alcohol can cause the medication to interfere with important body functions such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. 
  • They CAN be addictive. Using any amount more of the medication than is prescribed can lead to addiction. An addicted person can’t stop using the medication without help, even when it causes serious problems with health, family, friends, work, school, money or the law. 
  • Use CAN cause an overdose. Taking a large dose of a prescription medication or injecting or snorting ground-up pills can cause a fatal overdose. After car crashes, medication overdoses are the next leading cause of unintended death in the U.S.

Why Are Prescription Medications Abused?  People abuse prescription medications for many reasons: ( Why Do Some People Abuse Prescription Drugs?  Retrieved July 2014)

  • To get high – Many medications act on the brain to produce a rush or good feeling 

  • To stay awake, concentrate or study 

  • To reduce pain or stress 

  • They are dependent or addicted – Some people start out using a medication legally, then abuse it 

  • They can get these medications easily – from family, friends, multiple pharmacies or the internet

WARNING SIGNS – You may be abusing prescription medications if you: ( Warning Signs.  Retrieved July 2014)

  • Ask for a prescription from more than one doctor 

  • Lie about your health to get a prescription 

  • Keep using a medication after your original medical condition has been treated 

  • Use a prescription medication to get high or to deal with stress 

  • Put drugs ahead of family, friends, work, school or health

How many Americans are misusing and abusing prescription medications?

  • Over 50% of prescription drug abusers got them from family or friends. – “2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” SAMHSA (Sept 2013)
  • Over 67% of 12th graders who abused prescription narcotics, such as Vicodin® or OxyContin®, were given the drugs by a friend or relative. – “2012 Monitoring the Future Survey,” NIDA
  • 22% of 12th graders who abused prescription narcotics took the drugs from a friend or relative without asking. – “2012 Monitoring the Future Survey,” NIDA
  • In 2012, 6.8 million people aged 12 and older used prescription drugs non-medically. – “2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” SAMHSA (Sept 2013)
  • The number of ER visits due to medication poisoning for children under age five increased 30% from 2001 to 2008, and child self-exposure to prescription products accounted for 55% of the emergency room visits. – “The Growing Impact of Pediatric Pharmaceutical Poisoning,” Journal of Pediatrics, (Feb 2011)
  • Abuse of prescription pain medications is leading to an increase in opiate overdoses, but in the past opiate overdoses were most often due to heroin use. Abuse of prescription pain pills is a growing problem with a growing number of fatalities. – “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis” (PDF), ODCP, April 2011

ADHD Medication: When properly prescribed and used, medications approved for the treatment of ADHD have been shown to be highly safe and effective. Most ADHD medications are stimulants and categorized by the Drug Enforcement Administration as Schedule II medications. This means that any improper use of them—including providing them to someone without a prescription or taking them without a prescription—is a federal crime.  Medicines used to treat ADHD can, like any medication, be abused in a variety of ways.  The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines prescription drug abuse as:   taking a prescription medication that is not prescribed for you OR taking a prescription medication for reasons or in dosages other than prescribed.  ( NIDA-Drug Terms.  Retrieved July 2014)

Athletes at greater risk:  According to sports medicine experts, abuse of prescription painkillers and stimulants is on the rise among both professional and amateur athletes.  Athletes looking to increase speed or strength or to play through anxiety or injuries may be at risk for abusing these drugs.  There is a growing concern about abuse of drugs prescribed to treat on-the-field injuries and drugs prescribed to treat attention deficit disorders. (Teen Athletes at Risk for Medication Misuse, Journal of Adolescent Health, Nov 10, 2013)

Dental Work: Sometimes after a dental procedure, your dentist may prescribe a narcotic analgesic, such as hydrocodone or oxycodone, to help relieve pain. When used as prescribed, you should know these medications are effective at minimizing post-operative pain. But using these drugs for any other purpose is illegal, dangerous, and can even be fatal.

Prescription Drug Abuse and the link to Heroin ( The Heroin Epidemic.  Retrieved July 2014)

  • Heroin has had resurgence in our nation and Kentucky is no exception 
  • It is a highly addictive drug derived from morphine, which is obtained from the opium poppy. Heroin can be injected, smoked, inhaled or snorted 
  • Police around KY report a dramatic increase in heroin use since late 2012 
  • A growing number of young people who began abusing expensive prescription drugs are switching to heroin, which is cheaper and easier to obtain

Health Risks of Heroin Use ( Publications: Drug Facts-Heroin.  Retrieved July 2014)

  • dependence and addiction 
  • fatal overdose 
  • infectious diseases like hepatitis and HIV 
  • collapsed veins 
  • infection of the heart lining and valves abscesses 
  • constipation and gastrointestinal cramping 
  • liver or kidney disease 
  • pulmonary complications, including various types of pneumonia 
  • permanent damage to brain, heart and other vital organs