Prescription and over-the-counter medications are ranked the third most commonly abused substances by Americans aged 14 and older, following just behind marijuana and alcohol. Due to their availability and accessibility, prescription drugs have become drugs-of-choice for adolescents and young adults. It is estimated that, every day, more than 1,700 teenagers use prescription drugs nonmedically for the first-time. 62 percent of teens do so because the drugs are “easy to get from parent’s medicine cabinets.” Many believe that, because the prescription pills are around the house, they are legal and safe to take.
While prescription medications are safe when taken exactly as prescribed, they have great potential for abuse and addiction when taken in any other means. If you take a prescription painkiller for a long duration of time, for example, the risks of addiction increase. When you increase the dosages of a medication, take a medication other than your own, or combine different types of pills, you pose great danger to your health. In fact, when not taken as directed, prescription drugs can be as dangerous as illicit substances like heroin or cocaine.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than half of the drug overdose deaths in the United States each year are caused by prescription drug misuse.
With the opioid epidemic in full swing across the United States – with opioid-related overdoses reaching record highs in recent years – it is time we protect our youth. Below Turnbridge outlines some of the most dangerous medications that are too often found in the household medicine cabinet.
1. Prescription Painkillers
Commonly sold or prescribed as: OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet
Common side effects: Drowsiness, fatigue, slowed heart rate, weight loss, insomnia, high blood pressure, suppressed breathing, depression, anxiety, addiction
Prescription opioids, commonly known as painkillers, are among the most dangerous prescription medications today. In 2015, prescription opioids were the second- leading cause of drug overdose deaths (heroin was the first). These drugs are fueling the opioid epidemic. Every day in the United States, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing painkilling drugs.
Prescription painkillers are classified as Schedule II drugs by the DEA, meaning they have a very high potential for abuse and “severe dependence.” It is said that a dependence on opioid drugs can develop in as little as two days; a physical addiction can develop within four weeks of use.
Not only are prescription painkillers highly addictive, they also pose great risk for overdose. When too much is taken (dosages are higher or more frequent than directed), opioid drugs can make it difficult for a user to breathe and can cause respiratory depression. This is because they inhibit how much oxygen reaches a user’s brain. Respiratory depression can lead users to coma, brain damage, or death.
Beyond the immediate dangers of painkillers, many believe these drugs are simply “gateways” into other, more dangerous, illicit drug use. Prescription opioids are directly related to illicit opioids like heroin – they are derived from the same roots. Users who are addicted to Oxycontin, then, often turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative to get high.
2. Depressants (i.e. Tranquilizers, Sedatives, Benzodiazepines)
Commonly sold or prescribed as: Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin
Common side effects: Sleepiness, loss of coordination, numbness, impaired motor function, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, unsteady balance, rapid eye movements, confusion
Depressants are a category of prescription drugs that slow down (or “depress”) the normal activity that goes on in the brain and nervous system. They are typically prescribed to relieve anxiety or to help a person sleep. One of the most commonly abused depressants is Xanax – according to a 2009 report by the Drug Abuse Warning Network, Xanax led to 112,552 emergency room visits in the single year.
When abused, prescription depressants can lead to dependence and addiction. Most severely, though, these drugs can lead to dangerous physical consequences. The most serious risks of depressant abuse happen when taken in conjunction with other drugs and alcohol. Taking Xanax and binge drinking, for example, can quickly lead to overdose. This is because the depressant Xanax and the depressant alcohol both tell the central nervous system to slow down all at once – resulting in a dangerously slow heartbeat, cessation of breathing, and possibly death. Other long-term side effects of Xanax abuse are memory impairment, paranoia and psychotic experiences, aggression, and long periods of sedation (sometimes for days).
3. Prescription Stimulants (i.e. Amphetamines and Methylphenidate)
Commonly sold or prescribed as: Adderall, Ritalin, Dexadrine
Common side effects: Heightened blood pressure, raised body temperature, excessive sweating, suppressed breathing, increased and irregular heart rate, muscle shakes, paranoia, insomnia
Stimulants are a category of medications that are commonly prescribed for behavioral disorders like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy (a sleep disorder), and depression. Like their name entails, stimulant drugs increase a user’s energy, alertness, attention, and activity levels. Many teens are prescribed these to manage their ADHD. The problem is, many are also sharing and misusing these meds as a means to get high, to increase alertness in school, and to get their everyday tasks done.
During 2015, the CDC reports that an estimated 5,251,000 people in the U.S. (ages 12 and over) misused prescription stimulants. According to NPR, backed by NIDA data, hospitalizations related to prescription stimulant abuse have skyrocketed in recent years.
Stimulants are classified as one of the most dangerous medications due to the severity of possible side effects. Not only can prescription stimulants cause anxiety and insomnia, these drugs are also associated with life-threatening side effects like cardiovascular failure, heart attack, seizures and stroke. With long-term use, they can cause severe damage to a user’s heart, nervous system, and respiratory system. High doses can dangerously elevate body temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and heart rate, which can also lead to heart failure and permanent brain damage.
Repeated misuse of some stimulants (sometimes within a short period) can also cause paranoia or psychosis. According to a 2015 study, the initiation of prescription stimulants is associated with an increased risk of hospitalization for psychosis or mania.
High school seniors and young adults in the 18- to 25-year age range are the most likely to misuse prescription stimulants, namely college students who believe in Adderall’s reputation as a “study aid.” Most Adderall and stimulant drug users believe these are magic pills that can enhance mental capacities. In reality, abuse of stimulant drugs can negatively impact brain function and cause bizarre, erratic behavior. High dosages of stimulants can cause delusions, hallucinations, and even suicidal thoughts.
Adderall and Ritalin are both classified as Schedule II drugs, according to the DEA, meaning both drugs pose great risk for addiction.
How to Prevent Prescription Drug Use in Teens & Young Adults
Has your child ever been prescribed a drug that falls into the categories above? Say, for post-wisdom teeth removal, a sports injury, or for ADHD? Did your child complete his or her prescription, or were there pills leftover? If leftover, what happened to those pills? Has your teen displayed any signs of prescription drug abuse or addiction?
As a parent, it is ever-important to keep track of medications in your home, and to keep them in a safe, locked-away place. It is also important to dispose of leftover prescription drugs safely, to prevent any possible abuse down the road. Finally, as a parent, it is your job to communicate with your teen about the dangers of prescription drugs – just because they are legal does not make them safe to take. Many teens believe their parents won’t care if they catch them getting high on prescription drugs.
Show your teen you care. Know which the most dangerous medications are, and the signs of abuse and addiction for each. If any prescription pills go missing in your home, or if your child is getting refills of prescriptions more often than normal, know which signs of addiction look for and how to address them. Prescription drug addiction treatment is available should you need it.
Turnbridge is a teen and young adult drug rehab center helping young people across the nation with their prescription drug addictions. We are here for you. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more. Or, learn more about the most dangerous and highly addictive prescription medications today, by visiting here.