Fiction: It's Safe to Use Prescription Drugs to Get High

Fiction: Using prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes is safer than using illicit drugs because they're prescribed by a doctor or health care professional.

Fact: Prescription drugs taken for nonmedical use can produce serious health effects-including addiction.

Prescription drugs, when used as prescribed, can be helpful and effective medicines. But using prescription drugs and over the counter (OTC) medicines like cough and cold medicine with dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high can have serious consequences.

Treatment admissions for prescription painkillers increased more than 400% between 1997 and 2007, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The prescription drugs most commonly abused include opiods prescribed for pain relief, central nervous system; depressants for anxiety and sleep disorders; and stimulants for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. According to the 2009 Monitoring the Future Survey, 4% of 8th graders, 6% of 10th graders and 6% of 12th graders reported they used these medications to get high in the past year.

In addition to addiction, prescription and OTC drugs, when abused, can lead to a long list of side effects and health consequences:

  • Taking a large single dose of an opioid such as OxyContin™ could cause severe respiratory depression or death.
  • In large quantities DXM, an over the counter medication, causes impaired motor function, numbness, nausea and vomiting, and increases heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Abusing depressants to get high can slow your reaction time, impair mental functioning and judgment, cause confusion, make you dizzy and nauseated, and blur your vision.

The good news is that the rate of teens aged 12 to 17 using prescription drugs for nonmedical use is declining. According to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the rate of current use among young people declined from 2002 to 2008 from 4% to 2.9%.

Remember: Unless a doctor prescribes medication for you to treat your specific medical condition, don't take it.



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