KNOW THE FACTS: What Is Prescription Drug Misuse?

Prescription drug misuse has become a large public health problem, with misuse leading to addiction and a rise in overdose deaths at epidemic levels. National and state statistics also show that prescription drug misuse among teens is a growing problem.

While some studies show that the perception among some teens (and even adults) is that prescription drugs are safer than street drugs, the truth is that prescription drug abuse is dangerous and can cause havoc in a teen’s mind and body, and even death.


According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) for Teens, the following are ways by which people misuse prescription drugs:

  • Taking someone else’s prescription medication. Even when someone takes another person’s medication for its intended purposes (such as to relieve pain, to stay awake, or to fall asleep) it is considered misuse.
  • Taking a prescription medication in a way other than prescribed. Taking your own prescription in a way that it is not meant to be taken is also misuse. This includes taking more of the medication than prescribed or changing its form—for example, breaking or crushing a pill or capsule and then snorting the powder.
  • Taking a prescription medication to get high. Some types of prescription drugs also can produce pleasurable effects or “highs.” Taking the medication only for the purpose of getting high is considered prescription drug misuse.
  • Mixing it with other drugs. In some cases, if you mix your prescription drug with alcohol and certain other drugs, it is considered misuse and it can be dangerous.

#REALTALK: Prescription Drugs Are Dangerious


The three most common types of prescription drugs that are abused are opioids (narcotic painkillers), stimulants, and depressants. Open the tabs below to learn more about each type, the medical use of the prescription drug, and reasons why teens abuse them. (Source: Partnership for Drug Free guide: “Getting High on Prescription Drugs and Over-the-Counter Medicine is Dangerous”)


Teenagers abuse narcotic pain relievers more than any other prescription medicine. Mentions of these very powerful drugs as reasons for emergency room visits have nearly tripled over the recent decade. Vicodin (hydrocodone) OxyContin (oxycodone) Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen) Darvon (propoxyphene) Codeine May be medically useful

Opioid Medications Commonly Misused By Teens: Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Percocet (oxycodone and acetaminophen), Darvon (propoxyphene), Codeine

May be medically useful for:

Treating moderate-to-severe pain, such as after surgery or dental procedures.

Teens abuse opioid painkillers to:

Feel pleasure or sensations of well-being


Stimulants increase the amounts of circulating brain chemicals that raise blood pressure and heart rate, speed up breathing, decrease appetite, and deprive the user of sleep.

Stimulant Medications Commonly Misused By Teens:

Ritalin, Concerta (methylphenidate) Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)

May be medically useful for:

Treating attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy; short-term treatment of obesity.

Teens abuse stimulants to:

Feel especially alert, focused, and full of energy; to help them to manage stressful schoolwork or “pull an all-nighter”; or to suppress appetite in order to lose weight.


Sedatives, sedative-hypnotics, and tranquilizers affect brain systems to produce a drowsy or calming effect, sometimes to the point of inducing sleep.

Depressant Medications Commonly Misused By Teens:

Benzodiazepines: Valium (diazepam) Xanax (alprazolam) Ativan (lorazepam) Klonopin (clonazepam) Restoril (temazepam)

Non-Benzodiazepine Sedatives: Ambien (zolpidem) Lunesta (eszopiclone)

Barbiturates: Mebaral (mephobarbital) Nembutal (pentobarbital)

May be medically useful for:

Treating anxiety, severe stress, panic attacks, and insomnia in the short-term, as well as some types of seizure disorders and muscle spasms.

Teens abuse depressants to:

Feel calm and sleepy with less tension, anxiety, or panic — these are feelings that go away as the body becomes drug-tolerant.