Certified National Drug & Alcohol Interventionists

The Dangers of Prescription Drugs

Fact: Prescription drug abuse of pain pills, depressants, and antidepressants are responsible for more overdose deaths than methamphetamines, heroin, and cocaine combined.

Some slang terms that are used for prescription drugs: downers, bars, candy, tooies, Blues, demmies, yellows, yellow jackets, tranks, red birds, phennies, barbs, and killers

Important Note: Prescription drugs are only safe when taken as prescribed by the person they were prescribed for; and any patient should ALWAYS disclose to their physician ALL drugs they are taking (including prescribed medication, over-the-counter meds, and ANY street drugs) Holding back this information from a physician could be lethal!

What you may not realize is that because prescriptions are being abused everyday many have been categorized by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in the same category as heroin and cocaine. This includes depressants, such as Xanax (widely known as bars or four bars) and opioid derivatives such as OxyContin (known as hillbilly heroin, Oxy 80, and Oxycat).

The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs and Their Effects

Antidepressants and Their Effects:

Antidepressants are commonly prescribed to teens and young adults for mental health and behavioral issues such as, bi-polar, depression, and schizophrenia. However many times these prescriptions are abused. However, in some cases the prescribed medications have not been abused but have caused the patient to have other serious mental issues.

Antidepressants include: Prozac, Paxil, Remeron, Zoloft, Celexa, Effexor, and Risperdal, just to name a few.

Studies have shown that the effects of these drugs can include:

  • Insomnia
  • Confusion and incoherent thoughts
  • Agitation
  • Suicidal thoughts or suicide
  • Irritability
  • Sweating
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Aggression
  • Tremors
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Hostility
  • Violent thoughts and actions

A study found that 14% of young people taking antidepressants presented with aggressive, violent behavior and psychotic delusions. There have also been examples of extreme irrational and erratic behavior in some patients.

Withdrawal symptoms include suicidal thoughts, aggression, anxiety, depression, tremors, headaches, insomnia, vomiting and dizziness.

Stimulants and Their Effects:

Stimulants which are referred to as “uppers” temporarily increase energy and alertness. Prescription stimulants come in both tablets and capsules. When these stimulants are abused are injected in liquid form or crushed and snorted.

Some prescription stimulants are:

  • Concerta
  • Dexedrine
  • Adderall
  • Biphetamine

Short term effects include depression, apathy, lethargic and a “”down” feeling followed by a rapid “up” feeling. It is this feeling of “up” and “down” that leads to an overwhelming exhaustion that causes the stimulant user to want the drug again and in higher doses to maintain their energy level. Soon they are not trying to get high but to stay well.

Long term effects from stimulants cause addiction to the drug. Higher doses of some stimulants can lead to feelings of hostility and paranoia. These high doses may also result in dangerously high body temperatures and irregular heartbeat.

What about Ritalin???

Studies have shown that one of the most dangerous stimulants used and abused is Ritalin. Ritalin has also been classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II Narcotic. This is the same classification as cocaine, amphetamines and heroin. Ritalin is commonly abused by children as young as 12. A few street names used for Ritalin are Vitamin R, R-Ball, and Skippy. In some schools, as many as 20% of the students take the drug regularly. Many schools have more of these drugs than the neighborhood pharmacy.

More Facts about Ritalin:

Ritalin is known as a central nervous system stimulant. But how it affects the body is not completely known. Even the manufacturer inserts a discloser in the drug’s packet admitting, “The mode of action in the man is not completely understood.” Ritalin users commonly crush the tablets into powder and snort it. It is also water-soluble which makes it easy to turn into a liquid in order for it to be injected.

Ritalin comes in small pills about the shape and size of an aspirin. It has the manufacture’s name “Ciba” inscribed on it. The 20 mg tablets are both white and pale yellow, the 10 mg tablets are pale green, and the 5 mg tablets are also pale yellow.

Ritalin is easy to get, especially for teens. In the beginning a legitimate prescription may be stolen from a classmate or sibling but many times fraudulent prescriptions are obtained. The pills are sold for $2 to $20 a pill, depending on the milligrams. Ritalin is also chemically similar to cocaine. It’s been referred to as the “poor man’s cocaine” because of the “rush” it sends to the brain when it’s injected. A major factor that contributes to the abuse is the large increase in the number of prescriptions given out. And many times Ritalin abusers move on to stronger drugs, such as methamphetamine. The amphetamine-like substance affects the body much like speed.

The Short Term Effects:

  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Hallucinations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Distressed sleep patterns
  • Nausea
  • Panic attacks
  • Increased body temperature
  • Convulsions and seizures

Long Term Effects:

  • Lung, liver, and kidney damage
  • Destruction of tissue in the nose (if snorted)
  • Breathing issues (if smoked)
  • Malnutrition, weight loss
  • Confused exhaustion
  • Strong psychological dependence
  • Depression
  • Damage to the brain, including strokes and epilepsy
  • Permanent damage to blood vessels of the brain and heart
  • High blood pressure leading to heart attacks and death

Depressants Classified as Benzodiazepines, Know as Benzos or Tranquilizers:

  • Xanax
  • Valium
  • Halcion
  • Ativan
  • Librium

Depressants Classified as Barbiturates:

  • Nembutal
  • Seconal
  • Amytal
  • Phenobarbital

Some other drugs in this category are known as “antipsychotics” or “major tranquilizers” which help with mental health issues such as major depressive disorders; those drugs include Seroquel, Trazodone, Zyprexa, and Haldol. Some side effects for these drugs are constipation, severe drowsiness, increased appetite, weight gain, restlessness, dizzy feeling, and dry mouth.

Short-Term Effects of Depressants:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Slower response
  • Visual disturbances
  • Slower brain function
  • Extreme mental and physical tiredness
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor concentration
  • Slowed pulse and breathing

*Using sedatives and tranquilizers with other drugs; street drugs, prescription drugs, and/or alcohol can be lethal. It can slow heart rate and breathing and in many cases this can lead to death.

Long-Term Effects of Depressants:

  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Restless sleep
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Sexual problems

*Other long-term effects develop due to the tolerance built up by the user. Larger doses are needed to have the same effect and dependency on depressants develops quickly. The user will sometimes raise their doses without consulting a doctor and this can result in coma or death. Depressants can also cause depression, chronic fatigue, and breathing difficulties. Cravings become stronger and anxiety and panic become more difficult to control if the user is unable to get more. Withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, weakness, and nausea. In high-dose users symptoms include irritability, agitation, high-body temperature, and convulsions can occur.

* NOTE: Unlike most drugs, withdrawal from depressants can be life-threatening.

Prescription Painkillers and the Effects They Have:

Opioids and morphine derivatives have quickly become the drug of choice for not only teens, but adults as well. They go to the central nervous system and relieve pain. Many people leading perfectly normal lives have fallen victim to opiate addiction because of an accident. They are prescribed pain relievers and it kicks off an all-consuming addiction, because of the short-lived euphoric feeling they produce & the highly addictive nature of the drugs.

*Like all other drugs listed once a tolerance is built and the body adapts to the presence of the drug higher doses are needed, not only achieve the same effect, but also to keep the user functioning.

Opioids and Morphine Derivatives:

Oxycodone has the greatest potential for dependency and abuse. It is also one of the most dangerous of all prescription drugs. Its effects are similar to and just as powerful as heroin. When compared to heroin, Oxycodone’s affects on the nervous system are the same. Some other forms of Oxycodone are OxyContin, Percodan, Percocet, Roxicet, and Endodan. *It has been reported that addiction to powerful painkillers, such as Oxycodone are extremely hard to habits to kick

Hydrocodone is one of the most widely abused prescription drugs because it is one of the most prescribed pain medications. It comes in tablets, capsules, and syrups. Some other well-known forms of Hydrocodone are Norco, Hycodan, Lorecet, Lortab, and Vicodin. The main ingredient, which makes Hydrocodone so addictive is codeine. All the trade names come in many different milligrams, from 250mg tablets to 1000mg tablets. The illicit use and sales of this drug has increased significantly over the last 7 years.

Demerol and Dilaudid come in tablets and liquid form. But both can be crushed and snorted or some addicts will dissolve the coating off in order to inject them.

The Effects of Painkillers, Short and Long-Term:

The effects of pain medication are both physical and psychological. While someone may want to stop using the pain of withdrawal may be mentally, emotionally, and physically too much to bear. And while some users may be able to get through the withdrawals and stop using, without professional help the psychological addiction remains and many times they go back to using shortly after they quit. Other effects of using painkillers include,

  • Addiction
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Unconsciousness
  • Respiratory depression
  • Respiratory failure
  • Fatigue
  • Increased energy, in long time users
  • Increased rate of heart attack
  • Coma
  • Death

The symptoms of withdrawal from painkillers include diarrhea, vomiting, cold chills, and flu-like symptoms as well as muscle and bone pain, insomnia, restlessness, agitation, irritability, muscle spasms and involuntary leg movements.