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What are the common prescription drugs abused in America?

Commonly abused prescription drugs fall into different categories, and some prescription drugs are more widely abused than others.  For example, prescription pain reliever abuse is the second most common form of illicit drug use in the United States as of 2018. In 2017, an estimated 2 million Americans misused prescription pain medication, more than one million abused prescription stimulants, and over 1.5 million misused sedatives or CNS depressants.  Prescription drug abuse is a problem affecting every corner of the nation. Millions of Americans are abusing these drugs, and every day more people are being prescribed these types of drugs. Prescription depressants cause sedation and drowsiness, reduced anxiety, a false sense of well-being, lowered inhibitions, slurred speech, confusion, and impaired coordination.  More dangerous effects caused by depressants include lowered blood pressure, slowed and shallow breathing, and respiratory depression causing coma or death. 

Depressants include barbiturates, benzodiazepines, and sleep medications.  Some of the common brand names are Ambien, Sonata, Ativan, Valium, Xanax, Librium, Amytal, Seconal, and Nembutal.  One of the most common prescription drugs are opioids and morphine derivatives. The effects of pain medication are euphoria, drowsiness, sedation, nausea, impaired coordination, confusion, respiratory depression, tolerance, and addiction.  Some of the common pain medications include codeine, morphine, methadone, fentanyl, hydrocodone, oxycodone, meperidine, and oxymorphone. Hydrocodone is the most prescribed pain medication in the United States. Most hydrocodone products are a combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen.  Acetaminophen causes liver damage with the chemical builds up in the liver which further complicates a drug user’s physical health.  

People of all age groups abuse stimulant prescription drugs, but young adults and teens are the most extensive demographic abusing prescription stimulants.  These drugs create a feeling of exhilaration, increased energy, mental alertness, increased heart rate, blood pressure, weight loss, heart attack, insomnia, and stroke.  Stimulants cause rapid breathing, tremors, loss of coordination, irritability, anxiousness, paranoia, hallucinations, impulsive behavior, aggressiveness, and addiction. Some of the common brand names include Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.  Opioids, CNS depressants, and CNS stimulants are the most commonly prescribed prescription drugs and those that are the most frequently abused by Americans. Preventing prescription drug abuse starts with taking the medication as directed, never mixing prescription drugs, and properly disposing of prescriptions.  Most states have unused prescription drug disposal programs operating in communities. Most people who become addicted to prescription drugs get the drugs from someone they know, such as a family member or friend. 

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 1.6 million people in 2019 begin misusing pain medication. Pain medication is one of the most commonly abused prescription drugs in the country. These drugs cause dangerous addictions because of physical and psychological dependence, tolerance, and withdrawal symptoms. Prescription drug dependence and addiction require medically supervised detox, withdrawal management, and counseling or therapy. Someone who has become physically dependent on prescription drugs benefits from a medically supervised detox to manage and control withdrawal symptoms. Typically, another medication is used to control the withdrawal symptoms—the ideal scene is to become drug-free and not rely on other drugs to manage recovery.

Someone addicted to prescription drugs would also require a medically supervised detox, but following detox is inpatient or outpatient drug rehabilitation. Medical detox typically lasts one to two weeks, but this is different for each person. Typically, the severity and extent of addiction determine how long the detox would last. Prescription drug addiction causes physical withdrawal symptoms that have the potential to become dangerous. It is not recommended for someone addicted to prescription drugs to stop cold turkey without professional medical help. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 0.5% of 1.4 million people in 2019 had an addiction to pain medication.

Pain medication addiction requires medical detox along with residential rehabilitation. Short-term drug rehabilitation programs typically last three to six weeks, whereas long-term programs last three to six months. The best way to convince someone they need help is through a family intervention organized with a professional interventionist. Certified interventionists are trained to help families plan and execute a family intervention. Intervention groups also help families locate suitable drug rehabilitation centers and detox programs for prescription drug addiction.

In 2019, 20.4 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder, and millions of Americans are struggling with prescription drug addiction. The abuse of common prescription drugs often involves the use of illicit street drugs and alcohol, which increases the risk of overdose. Fatal and non-fatal overdose deaths are connected to the use of prescription drugs, alcohol, and illegal street drugs. Medical detox programs and residential treatment centers are equipped to manage prescription drug addiction.


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