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Drug Information

Prescription Drugs

Although teens are turning away from street drugs, now there's a new threat and it's from the family medicine cabinet: The abuse of prescription (Rx) and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs.

Parents and caregivers are the first line of defense in addressing this troubling trend.

The problem with teens abusing prescription drugs is more common than many parents think. More teens are abusing prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana. In 2006, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs.1 And among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drugs of choice.2

What's the problem?

Teens are abusing some prescription and over-the-counter drugs to get high. This includes painkillers, such as those drugs prescribed after surgery; depressants, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs; and stimulants, such as those drugs prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Teens are also abusing over-the-counter drugs, such as cough and cold remedies.

Every day 2,500 youth age 12 to 17 abuse a pain reliever for the very first time. More teens abuse prescription drugs than any illicit drug except marijuana. In 2006, more than 2.1 million teens ages 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs.1 Among 12- and 13-year-olds, prescription drugs are the drug of choice.2

Because these drugs are so readily available, and many teens believe they are a safe way to get high, teens who wouldn't otherwise touch illicit drugs might abuse prescription drugs. And not many parents are talking to them about it, even though teens report that parental disapproval is a powerful way to keep them away from drugs.3

What are the dangers?

There are serious health risks related to abuse of prescription drugs. A single large dose of prescription or over-the-counter painkillers or depressants can cause breathing difficulty that can lead to death. Stimulant abuse can lead to hostility or paranoia, or the potential for heart system failure or fatal seizures. Even in small doses, depressants and painkillers have subtle effects on motor skills, judgment, and ability to learn.

The abuse of OTC cough and cold remedies can cause blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, coma, and even death. Many teens report mixing prescription drugs, OTC drugs, and alcohol. Using these drugs in combination can cause respiratory failure and death.

Prescription and OTC drug abuse is addictive. Between 1995 and 2005, treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 300 percent.4

Teens are abusing a variety of prescription drugs to get high, including:




Courtesy of TheAntiDrug.com


About Painkillers

What are painkillers or opioids? Opioids are drugs that contain opium or are derived from and imitate opium. They are prescribed for pain relief and are only available by prescription. Most opioid or painkilling drugs are non-refillable and, when used properly under a medical doctor's supervision, are safe and effective.1 Opioid drugs act by effectively changing the way a person experiences pain.2

Morphine derivatives (or "narcotics") come from opioids and are used to therapeutically treat pain, suppress coughing, alleviate diarrhea, and induce anesthesia. When using these narcotics, abusers experience a general sense of well-being by reduced tension, anxiety, and aggression.3

Examples of Painkillers

Some of the most well-known painkillers are listed below with the names you might find on a prescription label. Note that although painkillers have different potencies and are taken in different ways, when they are abused, all pose a risk for addiction and other serious effects.

  • Codeine: like morphine, this is found in opium, is weaker in action than morphine, and is used especially as a painkiller.
  • Fentanyl (and fentanyl analogs): a man-made opioid painkiller similar to morphine that is administered as a skin patch or orally.
  • Morphine: the powerful, active ingredient of opium is used as a painkiller and sedative.
  • Opium: from the opium poppy, formerly used in medicine to soothe pain but is now often replaced by derivative alkaloids (as morphine or codeine) or man-made substitutes (opioids).
  • Hydrocodone: often combined with acetaminophen for use as a painkiller. Vicodin is an example.
  • Oxycodone: a narcotic painkiller, for example OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan.4

Check out an extended list of these drugs and their street names.

Are Teens Abusing Painkillers?

Painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin are the prescription drugs most commonly abused by teens. In fact, within the past year nearly one in 10 high school seniors has abused Vicodin and more than five percent of seniors have abused OxyContin.5

Painkillers are also the most abused type of prescription drugs by 16- to 17-year-olds, followed by stimulants, tranquilizers, and sedatives.6 Almost two out of five teens report having friends that abuse prescription painkillers and nearly three out of 10 report having friends that abuse prescription stimulants.7

How Do Teens Take Painkillers?

There are several ways painkillers can be taken. Most teens report swallowing pills, but they can also be crushed and snorted for an intensified effect.8

Signs and Symptoms

Short-term effects
Painkillers can cause drowsiness, inability to concentrate, apathy, lack of energy, constriction of the pupils, flushing of the face and neck, constipation, nausea, vomiting, and most significantly, respiratory depression.9

Long-term effects
If a teen abuses painkillers for a period of time, he can become addicted to the drug and experience withdrawal symptoms when he stops taking the drug. Associated with addiction is tolerance, which means more and more of the drug or a combination of drugs is needed to produce the same high or euphoric feeling, possibly leading to overdose.10

Potential Drug Interactions

Always consult your teens' physician before giving them any medicines if they are already taking a prescribed painkiller or other medication, as it may be dangerous to use them together. Painkillers should not be used with alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, or benzodiazepines. Since these substances slow breathing, their combined effects could lead to life-threatening respiratory depression.11

What Is a Painkiller Overdose?

Physical signs of painkiller overdose include pinpoint pupils, cold and clammy skin, confusion, convulsions, severe drowsiness, and slow or troubled breathing.12

What Is Painkiller Withdrawal?

Due to the physical dependence produced by chronic use of opioid painkillers, teens who are prescribed opioid medications need to be monitored not just when they are appropriately taking the medicine, but also when they stop using the drug to reduce or avoid withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms of withdrawal can include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and involuntary leg movements.13

Street or Slang Terms for Painkillers

Oxies, OC, oxycotton, 80s, percs, vikes, and vikings are commonly used terms to refer to painkillers.

Courtesy of TheAntiDrug.com

Courtesy of TheAntiDrug.com


About Depressants

Depressants, or downers, are often prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety and panic attacks, tension, acute stress reactions, and sleep disorders. When given in high doses, depressants may act as anesthesia.1

Often referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, depressants are substances that can slow normal brain function.2 Most depressants reduce brain function through a neurotransmitter called gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA) which is a chemical that enables communication between brain cells.

While different depressants work in unique ways, they produce a drowsy or calming effect that can help those suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders.3 Because they can produce a state of intoxication, they have a high potential for abuse.4

Examples of Depressants

Barbiturates are a type of depressant often prescribed to promote sleep.5
Benzodiazepines are a type of depressant prescribed to relieve anxiety.6

Check out an extended list of these drugs and their street names.

Are Teens Abusing Depressants?

Depressants such as sedatives and tranquilizers have been growing in popularity among teens. In 2007, six percent of high school seniors reported abusing depressants including Valium and Xanax, compared to four percent in 1995.7

Signs and Symptoms

Depressants have the potential for abuse and should be used only as prescribed.

Be on the lookout for these side effects:

  • Physical side effects include dilated pupils and slurred speech; relaxed muscles; intoxication; loss of motor coordination; fatigue, respiratory depression; sensory alteration; and lowered blood pressure.8 Teens taking barbiturates may exhibit side effects such as slurred speech, dizziness, sedation, drowsiness, and fever.9
  • Psychological side effects include poor concentration or feelings of confusion; impaired judgment; and lowered inhibitions.10 Teens on barbiturates may experience depression, fatigue, confusion, and irritability.11

If you have observed any of the symptoms or side effects listed above, contact a medical professional immediately.

Withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, muscle tremors, and loss of appetite. Going "cold-turkey" off of some depressants can have life-threatening complications, cause convulsions, delirium, and in rare instances, death.12

Because all depressants work by slowing the brain's activity, when someone stops taking them, the brain's activity can rebound and race out of control, possibly leading to seizures and other serious consequences.13

Symptoms including shallow breathing, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, coma, or death.

Interactions with Depressants

Depressant abuse is often combined with the use of other drugs like alcohol, other prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and street drugs like marijuana.

Combining these substances can be highly dangerous:

Alcohol. Using depressants with alcohol can slow both the heart and breathing and may lead to death.14 When combined with alcohol, the effects and risks of depressants are seriously increased.

Prescription drugs. Some interactions with other drugs can be risky. Depressants should be used in combination with other medications only under a physician's close supervision.15

Over-the-counter drugs. Depressants should not be combined with any other medication or substance that causes central nervous system depression, including some over-the-counter cold and allergy medications.16 Doing so may slow the heart and breathing, a serious health risk.

Street or Slang Terms for Depressants

Benzos, xanies, xani-bars, xani-bombs, and roofies are commonly used terms to refer to depressants.

Courtesy of TheAntiDrug.com


About Stimulants

Stimulants are sometimes prescribed by doctors to treat conditions such as asthma, respiratory problems, obesity, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sleep disorders like narcolepsy.

This class of drug is often abused for its ability to produce euphoric effects or to counteract sluggish feelings induced by tranquilizers or alcohol.1 In the hands of teens, stimulants are taken to stay awake, increase alertness and concentration, boost energy, and get high. Sometimes teens go beyond swallowing these pills. If they are prescribed drugs for ADHD, they can save up their pills during the week and share them with friends at weekend parties. They then crush and snort them, or mix with alcohol. Teens also report saving and selling their own ADD drugs around exam time.

Examples of Stimulants

  • Amphetamines and dextroamphetamine are stimulant drugs whose effects are similar to cocaine.2
  • Methamphetamine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is part of a larger family of amphetamines.3
  • Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant. It has effects similar to, but stronger than, caffeine and less potent than amphetamines.4

Check out a longer list of stimulant drugs and their street names.

Signs and Symptoms

Do you suspect your teen is abusing stimulants? If so, there are a number of symptoms and side effects to look for:

  • Physical side effects include dilated pupils; decreased appetite; loss of coordination; collapse; increased heart and respiratory rates; elevated blood pressure;5 dizziness; tremors; headache; flushed skin; chest pain with palpitations; excessive sweating; vomiting; and abdominal cramps.6
  • Psychological side effects include feelings of restlessness, anxiety, and delusions;7 hostility and aggression; and panic, suicidal, or homicidal tendencies. Paranoia, often accompanied by auditory and visual hallucinations, may also occur.8

If you have observed any of the symptoms or side effects listed above, be mindful of the possibility of withdrawal or overdoses, as well.

Withdrawal symptoms associated with discontinuing stimulant use may include depression, disturbance of sleep patterns, fatigue, and apathy.9

Overdose or death is preceded by high fever, convulsions, and heart failure. Since death in these cases is partially due to strain on the heart, physical exercise increases the risks of stimulant use.10

Interactions with Stimulants

Stimulant abuse often goes along with the use of other substances like alcohol, other prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and the use of illegal substances like marijuana.

Did you know:

Alcohol. Teens who use alcohol and stimulants together are likely to drink more before feeling the effects of alcohol because of the stimulant effects. The result? When the stimulant effect(s) wear off, the alcohol kicks in.11

Prescription drugs. Stimulants should only be used in combination with other medications under a physician's careful supervision.12

Over-the-counter drugs. There are dangers associated with mixing stimulants and over the counter drugs that contain decongestants. Blood pressure can become dangerously high or lead to irregular heart rhythms.13

Street or Slang Terms for Stimulants

Ritz, rippers, dexies, and bennies are commonly used terms to refer to stimulants.

Courtesy of TheAntiDrug.com


• Reduce binge drinking and prescription drug abuse among teens.
• Reduce other high-risk behaviors and negative consequences for teens.
• Increase/build infrastructure to address substance abuse.
Mike Womack, Executive Director
P.O. Box 1412
Athens, TN. 37371-1412
MADCAT #: 423-920-6555