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What Is Prescription Pill Abuse?

October 25, 2013  |  Falmouth Enterprise

By Dr. Michael Bihari

This article is based on information from the Drug Free Action Alliance.

October is National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month.

Every day in the United States, about 7,000 people misuse or intentionally abuse a prescription medication for the first time; approximately 2,500 of them are kids between the ages of 12 and 17. Prescription medication abuse devastates families and communities throughout our country. Although the U.S. makes up 4.6 percent of the world’s population, it consumes 80 percent of its narcotic pain medications and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone (the opiate in Vicodin).

Of great concern is the significant increase of heroin use and narcotic drug overdoses related to the abuse of opiate pain killers.

America’s Abuse of Prescription Drugs

Used correctly, drugs play an important role in managing our health conditions. But when abused or misused these medications can cause serious harm. The following are some of the factors that contribute to the widespread abuse of prescription medications:

Drug Marketing: Every day we are bombarded by drug advertisements that promise to fix whatever ails us. We are not only much more aware of what’s available, but many times feel encouraged by outside influences to pop a pill for a quick fix. 

Access: Prescription drugs are easy to access, with the majority coming from home medicine cabinets, other family members or friends. Fifty-four percent of teens who abuse prescription drugs claim to get them for free from family or friends, while another seventeen percent report buying or stealing prescription drugs from family or friends. That is more than 70%.

Stigma: There is less of a stigma with prescription drug use versus “street drugs.” This is due in part to the idea that since these pills were prescribed by a physician, they are safe. More adults and teens report abusing medications than all other illicit drugs combined. But taking someone else’s prescribed medication is not only illegal, it is dangerous (with potentially fatal consequences). 

Everybody’s Doing It: For teens, a common misperception is that “everybody’s doing it.” This is a myth; the majority of youth are not abusing or misusing prescription drugs. it is important for your children to know that based on the most recent survey of Falmouth high school students, more than 90% report that they have never abused or misused a prescription medication.

When Is It Abuse or Misuse?

There are four circumstances and some examples that define prescription drug abuse and misuse:

Taking someone else’s prescription medications. Mary feels anxious about starting her new after school job in the library. She takes a Valium (anxiety medication) that was prescribed to her mother.

Taking a prescription medication in ways other than prescribed. John wants to relax after a long week of exams and football practice. He takes one Vicodin (opiate pain killer) tablet that was prescribed for him for pain after a sports injury months ago.

Taking a prescription medication for reasons other than prescribed. Mike, who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), is having trouble focusing on an important school project. She decides to double her prescribed dose of Adderall (stimulant).

Taking a prescription medication for a poor reason, such as getting high. Carol is going to a party on Saturday night and wants to get high with her friends.   On her way out of her house, she takes three Percocet (opiate pain killer) and three Xanax (anxiety medication) from her parent’s medicine cabinet to share with her friends.


MedlinePlus-Prescription Drug Abuse: Access to in-depth information about non-medical use of prescription pills. 

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