Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drugs, also referred to as psychotherapeutic prescriptions, are meant to treat physical and mental illnesses. They relieve pain, anxiety and depression. They are prescribed by a doctor to a patient, or bought from pharmacies. Prescription drugs and over the Counter (OTC) drugs, are legitimate and are taken as per the doctor’s instructions. Unfortunately, people have resorted to misusing prescription drugs and OTC for self – medicating; to cope with frustrations, stress and anxiety in their lives.

Current research indicates that there is a high rate of prescription drug abuse, especially among the Youth. This habit is putting them at a high risk of getting addicted. The consequences are poor health, self-destructive behavior and death from overdose. Abuse of prescription drugs is now 3rd, after marijuana and alcohol abuse.

In America, the high rates of overdose deaths, resulting from abuse of prescriptions is worrying; at least 16 million (6% of the population), over 12 years, abuse prescriptions every year.12% of this are already addicted.  Closer home in Kenya, a survey by NACADA carried out in 2021, in secondary schools, indicated that at least 16.1% of the students had abused prescription drugs, while in primary schools, the figure stood at 10.4 %. This trend is worrying. In addition, 75% of those who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends, relatives or health care centers and pharmacies.

When do you abuse prescription drugs?

  • Taking medicine prescribed for someone else
  • Taking more than your doctor’s recommended dose
  • Taking medicine in a different mode from the usual, such as crushing a pill or opening a capsule meant for swallowing.
  • Taking a drug for different purposes such as to feel pleasure or High

Highly abused prescription drugs

There are three categories of most highly abused prescription drugs. These are depressants, stimulants and opioids.  As the names suggest, depressants depresses the brain by slowing down activities of certain areas of the brain while stimulants activates certain areas of the brain. Opioids are generally pain – relievers. Research shows that 59.5% of those who abuse prescription drugs use pain killers, while the rest use  a combinations.


Depressants are also referred to as ‘downers’; they slow down activities of the Central Nervous System, (CNS). The CNS comprises of the brain and the spinal cord and it is involved in receiving, processing and responding to sensory information. It controls how we think, learn, move and feel. Depressants are meant to treat conditions such as depression, anxiety and sleep disorders. They   relax muscles and boost mood.

Why do people abuse depressants? Because they provide a numbing and pleasurable effects, which produces a’high’. The most commonly abused drugs under this category include;

  • Ativan
  • Xanax ( Alprazolam)
  • Diazepam (Valium),
  • Triazolam(Halcion)

Side effects

When taken in high doses, depressant drugs can cause breathing problems and withdrawal syndromes. You can also develop physical dependency leading to addiction. Signs and symptoms of depressants are similar to those of alcohol abuse and include:

  • Feeling drowsy-sleepy
  • Slowed breathing
  • Unsteady walking and slurred speech.
  • Poor concentration and dizziness
  • Poor memory


Stimulants, also referred to,   as ‘uppers’, activate the Central Nervous system. Medically, they treat Attention Deficient hyperactivity disorder. (ADHD), obesity, sleep disorders, asthma and nasal congestion. They increase ability to focus and increases energy. They elevate mood. Some commonly abused Stimulants include;

  • Adderall (Amphetamine), used by at least 75% of stimulant abusers.
  • Ritalin (Methylphenidate)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)

Side effects

Stimulants drugs are illegally used to enhance performance such as doping in sports and also as recreational drugs. Some of the Signs and symptoms of stimulants abuse are;

  • Lack of appetite
  • Feeling edgy and agitated
  • Raised body temperature
  • Lack of sleep/sleeplessness
  • Increased high blood pressure
  • Anxiety and fearfulness

It is important to note that abuse of stimulants can be fatal, sometimes resulting to stroke, seizures, cardiac arrest and death from overdose.


Opioids are the most potent pain relievers; they are used to treat moderate to severe chronic pain. When taken in the right dose, they cause relaxation and happiness, but when abused, they are highly addictive. Those who get addicted to opioids’ usually end up abusing heroin since it is cheaper. Some commonly abused opioids include;

  • Fentanyl(Duragesic)- very dangerous
  • Oxycodone(Osxycontin,Percocet)
  • Vicodin ( Hydrocodone)-among the deadliest opioids
  • Oxycodone(Osxycontin,Percocet)
  • Methadone (Dolophine)

Side effects

The Short term effects of opioids include relief from pain, relaxation and happiness. This is one of the reasons why opioids are abused since large amounts causes euphoria, making you feels ‘high’. Other signs and symptoms of opioids abuse include;

  • Euphoria-heightened energy and pleasure
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Nausea
  • Drowsiness
  • Poor coordination
  • Low birth weight
  • miscarriage

Opioids abuse is dangerous since it can cause slowed breathing, hallucinations, brain damage, coma, and even death.

In conclusion, Prescription drugs and OTC medicines should only be taken according to doctor’s instructions since they are very addictive. The fact that they are legal and easily available and accessible should make you keener and alert, lest you end up getting hooked. As they always say, ‘prevention is better than cure”. Stay away from prescription drug abuse.

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