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Opioids & Prescription Misuse

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What is Prescription Medication Misuse?

Misuse occurs when:

  • you don't follow your doctor's instructions when taking the prescription
  • you take a medication that are not prescribed for you
  • you take a medication for the purpose of getting high

Did you know?

After marijuana and alcohol, prescription drugs are the most commonly misused substances by Americans age 14 and older.

Why is Prescription Misuse Unsafe?

Prescription drugs are often strong medications, which is why they require a prescription in the first place. Every medication has some risk for harmful effects, sometimes serious ones. Doctors consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications and take into account a lot of different factors, described below. When they are misused, they can be just as dangerous as drugs that are made illegally.

  • Before prescribing a medication, medical professionals take into a count the patient's personal information, such as their age, weight, medical history, and other medications they are taking. Someone taking a medication that was not prescribed to them may put themselves at serious risk for dangerous drug interactions that can cause seizures, coma, or even death.
  • Doctors know how long it takes a medication to dissolve in the stomach, enter the bloodstream, and reach the brain. When misused, prescription drugs may be taken in ways that change how the drug works in your body and brain, putting the you at greater risk for overdose.
  • Prescription medications are made to treat a specific condition, but they often affect the body in multiple ways, some of which can be uncomfortable and in some cases, dangerous. These side effects can be worse when prescription drugs are not taken as prescribed or used in combination with other substances.


Commonly Misused Prescription Medications

Three commonly misused prescription medications are opioids, depressants, and stimulants. Opioids are used to relieve pain, depressants are used to relieve anxiety or to help a person sleep, and stimulants are used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). What happens to your brain and body when you use these substances?

  • Using opioids like oxycodone can cause you to feel sleepy, sick to your stomach, and constipated. At higher doses, opioids can make it hard to breathe properly and can cause overdose and death.
  • Using stimulants like Adderall can make you feel paranoid. It also can cause your body temperature to get dangerously high and make your heart beat too fast. This is especially likely if stimulants are taken in large doses or in ways other than swallowing a pill.
  • Using depressants can cause slurred speech, shallow breathing, sleepiness, disorientation, and lack of coordination. People who misuse depressants regularly and then stop suddenly may experience seizures. At higher doses they can also cause overdose and death, especially when combined with alcohol.


Another type of opioid that is not used as a medicine is heroin. It is an illegal, highly addictive drug. Regular heroin use changes the functioning of the brain and repeated use can result in tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Since heroin is a type of opioid, it attaches to opioid receptors which are located in the brain, brain stem, spinal cord, lungs, and intestines. These varying locations result in a wide range of physical effects related to breathing and other basic life functions. Use can result in:

  • dry mouth
  • warm flushing skin
  • heavy feeling in arms and legs
  • feeling nauseous and vomiting
  • severe itching
  • clouded thinking
  • going in and out of consciousness
  • coma
  • dangerously slowed or even stopped breathing, which can lead to death
  • increased risk of disease through shared needles

Long-term Effects Can Include:

  • sleeping problems
  • heart infection
  • constipation and stomach cramping
  • liver and kidney disease
  • lung problems
  • mental health illness, such as depression


For more information click here!



National Institute of Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.