Prescription Medication

Prescription drug misuse has become a large public health problem. Misuse can lead to addiction, and even fatal and nonfatal overdose. There are three categories of commonly misused prescription drugs:

  1. Opioids – Used for pain.
  2. Depressants – Used for relieving anxiety or help an individual sleep.
  3. Stimulants – Used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

What are Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs are medications prescribed by a medical professional, including dentists and veterinarians, to treat a specific illness. Prescription drugs are intended to only be used by the person that they are prescribed to. Prescription drugs are stronger than over-the-counter (OTC) medications, or medications that anyone can purchase without a prescription, and may have more serious side effects if misused.

Are Alternatives Available?

Prescription medications are prescribed to treat a specific medical need. Sometimes medications are prescribed for a short period of time, such as when recovering from getting your Wisdom Teeth removed. Sometimes medications are prescribed for longer periods of time, such as for a mental health need. It is important to talk with your prescriber about all medications that you are prescribed, such as why a medication is being prescribed and for how long you are supposed to take the medication.

Some prescription medications may have alternatives, such as opioids. Perhaps you need surgery, such as oral surgery, or have a sports-related injury. A doctor or dentist may recommend prescription pain relievers (opioids). If that happens, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider about non-opioid or alternative pain management options. There are non-opioid pain relievers, and some of them are over-the-counter. You can also ask your pharmacist about the Partial-Fill Law, which allows you to request a lower opioid prescription count.

How are Prescription Drugs Misused?

Prescription drugs can be easily misused. It is important to know how prescription drugs can be misused so that we can identify and address misuse right away.

  • Sharing or taking someone else’s prescription medication, even if it is for a medical reason. Sharing prescription medication is never okay.
  • Mixing prescription medication with alcohol or other drugs. Your pharmacist can tell you what other drugs are safe to use with your unique prescription.
  • Taking medication in a way other than what is prescribed, such as taking more than the prescribed dose or crushing pills into powder and snorting or injecting.
  • Taking the medication with the intention of getting “high” or experiencing an alternate state of mind.

What Happens when you Misuse Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs can have side effects, even when used as prescribed for medical problems. Different types of prescription drugs have different side effects. Some side effects may occur through misuse, while others may occur even if taken as prescribed.

  1. Opioids can cause you to feel sleepy, sick, and constipated. If taken in high doses, they can make it hard to breathe.
  2. Depressants can cause shallow breathing, sleepiness, slurred speech, disorientation, and lack of coordination. Individuals who misuse depressants regularly and then try to stop may experience seizures. If taken in high doses, depressants can cause affect your judgment, coordination, motor skills and reaction time more than alcohol alone.
  3. Stimulants can cause dry mouth, decreased appetite, weight loss, dizziness and cause trouble sleeping. In more extreme cases they can make you feel paranoid, cause your body temperature to rise to danger levels, and make your heart beat too fast. These side effects are more likely when stimulants are taking in larger doses or in a way other than swallowing the pills.

Can Misusing Prescription Drugs Cause Nonfatal or Fatal Overdose?

Yes. In 2018, an average of 41 people died each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids, totaling nearly 15,000 deaths. While prescription opioids were involved in 32% of all opioid-related overdose deaths in 2018, there was a 13.5% decrease in prescription opioid-related death rates from 2017 to 2018. For more statistics, check out the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mixing different types of prescription drugs can be particularly dangerous. For example, benzodiazepines interact with opioids and increase the risk of fatal and nonfatal overdose by over-sedation. Over-sedation is the inability to wake up or respond to stimuli, which can put individuals at risk of falling, if they are standing up, or causing a serious car accident, if they are driving. These individuals are also at high risk of slipping into a coma. Also, combining opioids with alcohol can slow down your respiratory system, making breathing difficult.

Tips for Youth

Even when you are confident in your decision not to misuse prescription drugs, sometimes it can be tough when it is your friend who is asking if you want to try something with them. Below are some tips to get out of an uncomfortable situation:

  • Say NO – This sounds easier than it actually is, but usually if you say no firmly and directly people will quit asking. Do not feel guilty for refusing drugs! If this method seems too hard, try one of the others!
  • Excuse yourself from the situation – give yourself time to think before you make a decision! Go to the bathroom, join another group, or say that you really need to get home for (dinner, curfew, you have to do an errand for someone, etc.).
  • Text a code word – this is one of the best strategies! It can be used to get out of all kinds of uncomfortable situations. Pick a code word with a parent/guardian, family member, or friend ahead of time, and agree that if they ever receive a message with that code word they call you immediately and say that they need you. This will be an easy way to make a quick exit!
  • Blame your parents/guardians – when all else fails it is much easier to blame the adults. Tell your friends your parents are really strict or that they will check on you when you enter the house later. Think about what excuse you might use ahead of time.

Educate yourself and your friends about prescription drug misuse. Click HERE for images that you can share on social media.

Tips for Parents to Prevent Misuse

Help to keep you children safe from prescription medication misuse by using the following tips:

  • If you have prescription medications in your home, it is important to manage them closely.
  • Place your prescription medications, including medications for pets, in a locked draw, pouch, cabinet, or safe.
  • Keep count of the pills in each bottle at all times.
  • Talk with your kids about prescription medication. Have frequent, open, and honest conversations with your children about all substance of abuse. Help your children understand the importance of taking medications as prescribed and of the risks in sharing medications with others.
  • If your child takes medication during the school day, make sure to comply with the school nurse guidelines in managing medication for students during the school day.
  • Ask the parent of your children’s friends to safeguard their medications, as well. Spread the word – talk with your family and friends about the importance of keeping medications stored and disposed of properly.
  • Check out the “Help Keep Our Kids Safe” campaign flier for more tips!


Looking for a curriculum to explore and/or implement at your youth-serving agency? Check out a few options below:

Medication Disposal Services are Available!

Dispose of your unused and unwanted medications to help keep your family and our community safe! There are 24-hour drop-off services available in the main lobby of your local police department – no questions asked. To use just place your prescriptions and over-the-counter pills in a clear sandwich bag and place the sandwich bag in the slot located on the collection box. Some pharmacies also collect unwanted and unused medications. Check with your pharmacist to see which types of medications they may accept.

You can also attend an unwanted medication disposal day drop-off event throughout the year and/or participate in the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) National Take Back Day. For more information on these events click here.