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Prescription drug abuse is the misuse of a prescribed medication other than the way in which a doctor has designated it to be used. Many prescription drugs can be abused, but most commonly opioids, anti-anxiety medications, and stimulants are abused because they are fast-acting and short-lasting in nature. Opioids such as Oxycontin and Percocet, anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax and Valium, and stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are some of the most commonly abused prescription medications.

And with the rise in the prescription drug abuse epidemic, drug rehab centers — including drug rehab centers in Utah — are focused on the problem.


For more on prescription drug abuse, see Opioid Addiction Is A Public Health Emergency; Opioid Addiction Treatment Is Strengthening


Why Does Prescription Drug Abuse Start?

There are many reasons a person may start to abuse prescription medications, but being young and/or dealing with chronic pain are two common variables in people who abuse these medications. Younger individuals are less likely to be educated on the deleterious effects of prescription abuse, and people managing chronic pain may simply begin abusing their medications to find relief when otherwise they have not been able to ease their symptoms.

The Mayo Clinic, an academic, research-based medical non-profit, has defined a set of other common reasons for prescription drug abuse:

  • To feel good or get high
  • To relax or relieve tension
  • To reduce appetite or increase alertness
  • To experiment with the mental effects of the substance
  • To maintain an addiction and prevent withdrawal
  • To be accepted by peers or to be social
  • To try to improve concentration and academic or work performance

Behind every addiction is a justification for use and misuse, but these reasonings can be dangerous – and even deadly – when used to spur a prescription medication abuse disorder. Prescription drugs are the most abused substances behind alcohol and marijuana – the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 15 million Americans abused prescription drugs in the past year, and 6.5 million did so in the past month. These rates have increased from the late 1990’s to the 2010’s as opioid sales increased four-fold and, subsequently, so have deaths and substance abuse treatment center admissions.

Developing a prescription drug abuse addiction is perhaps easier than other addictions primarily due to the ease of access of the medications. Once prescribed a medication, like an opioid, by a physician, the patient must adhere to strict guidelines about use and pain management in order for the medications to be effective. There is also a misconception that prescription drugs can provide a “safe” high, a myth that is commonly believed due to a lack of education on the effects of prescription drug misuse.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

As evident from information gathered by the National Institute of Drug Abuse, the reality is that prescription drug misuse is devastating:

  • The total economic burden in the United States of opioid misuse is calculated at $78.5 billion a year.
  • 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Between 8-12% of patients prescribed opioids develop an opioid use disorder.
  • Every day, over 115 million people die of opioid overdoses.
  • As of 2011, “more than 1.2 million ED visits in 2011 could be attributed to nonmedical use of prescription drugs; this represents about half (50.5 percent) of all ED visits related to drug misuse.” – The Drug Abuse Warning Network
  • More than 30% of overdoses from opioids involved benzodiazepines, a prescription-based sedative used to treat anxiety or sleep issues.
  • Between 2005 and 2011 Emergency Room visits for pharmaceutical stimulant abuse for people ages 18-34 increased from 5,605 to 22,949 visits.

Prescription drugs may begin as something that helps alleviate pain and manage chronic distress. However, their use needs to be closely monitored due to the addictive nature of many of these fast-acting, short-lasting medications.

If you are addicted to a prescription drug, seeking treatment in Utah in a structured setting and with a personally defined program may be the best option to curtail the misuse. Understanding how prescription drug abuse starts can help you identify signs of misuse and seek appropriate treatment from an educated perspective.