Stark County Anti-Drug Coalition Mental Health and Recovery Services Board of Stark County in partnership with
The Stark County Educational Service Center

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is when someone takes a prescription drug that was prescribed for someone else or in a manner or dosage other than what was prescribed. Abuse can include taking a friend’s or relative’s prescription to get high, to treat pain, or because you think it will help with studying.

What are the most commonly abused prescription and over-the-counter drugs?

Opioids (such as the pain relievers OxyContin and Vicodin), central nervous system depressants (e.g., Xanax, Valium), and stimulants (e.g., Ritalin, Adderall) are the most commonly abused prescription drugs.1 Some drugs that are available without a prescription—also known as over-the-counter drugs—also can be dangerous if they aren't taken according to the directions on the packaging. For example, DXM (dextromethorphan), the active cough suppressant found in many over-the-counter cough and cold medications, sometimes is abused, particularly by youth.

Teens and Prescription Drugs

Teens abusing prescription drugs

How many teens abuse prescription drugs?

Among youth who are 12 to 17 years old, 7.4 percent reported past-year nonmedical use of prescription medications. According to the 2011 Monitoring the Future survey, prescription and over-the-counter drugs are among the most commonly abused drugs by 12th graders, after alcohol, marijuana, and tobacco. Youth who abuse prescription medications are also more likely to report use of other drugs.

Where do teens get prescription drugs?

The majority of both teens and young adults obtain prescription drugs they abuse from friends and relatives, sometimes without their knowledge. And in one survey, 51 percent of high school seniors said that opioid drugs other than heroin (e.g., Vicodin) would be fairly or very easy to get.2

Why do teens abuse prescription drugs?

Teens abuse prescription drugs for a number of reasons, including to get high, to treat pain, or because they think it will help them with school work. Interestingly, boys and girls tend to abuse some types of prescription drugs for different reasons. For example, boys are more apt to abuse prescription stimulants to get high, while girls tend to abuse them to stay alert.

Prescription Drug Abuse Effects

What happens when you abuse prescription drugs?

Abusing prescription drugs can have negative short- and long-term health consequences.3Stimulant abuse can cause paranoia, dangerously high body temperatures, and an irregular heartbeat, especially if stimulants are taken in high doses or in ways other than in pill form.3The abuse of opioids can cause drowsiness, nausea, constipation, and, depending on the amount taken, slowed breathing. Abusing depressants can cause slurred speech, shallow breathing, fatigue, disorientation, lack of coordination, and seizures (upon withdrawal from chronic abuse). Abuse of any of these substances may result in addiction.3

Abusing over-the-counter drugs that contain DXM—which usually involves taking doses much higher than recommended for treating coughs and colds—can impair motor function (such as walking or sitting up); produce numbness, nausea, and vomiting; and increase heart rate and blood pressure.

Abusing any type of mind-altering drug can affect judgment and inhibition and may put a person at heightened risk for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Aren’t prescription drugs safer than illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin?

No. Many people think that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit drugs like heroin because the manufacturing of prescription drugs is regulated or because they are prescribed by doctors. But that doesn't mean these drugs are safe for someone other than the person with the prescription to use. Many prescription drugs can have powerful effects in the brain and body—and people sometimes take them in ways that can be just as dangerous (e.g., crushing pills and snorting or injecting them) as illicit drug abuse. In fact, opioid painkillers act on the same sites in the brain as heroin, which is one reason why they can be so dangerous when abused. Also, abusing prescription drugs is illegal—and that includes sharing prescriptions with friends.

If prescription drugs are dangerous, why are they prescribed by doctors?

Virtually every medication presents some risk of undesirable side effects, sometimes even serious ones. Doctors consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications. Doctors ask about patients’ medical history, including what other health problems they have and what other medications they take. Based on this and other information (e.g., age and weight of the patient), physicians can prescribe medications while minimizing the risks. But when abused, some prescription drugs can be dangerous and can lead to severe health consequences, including addiction and overdose—just like illicit drugs can.

Why don’t people who take prescription drugs for medical conditions become addicted?

On rare occasions, they do, which is why a person must be under a doctor's care while taking prescription medications, and sometimes when stopping their use. Long-term medical use of certain prescription drugs can lead to "physical dependence" because of the way the brain and the body naturally adapt to chronic drug exposure. A person may need larger doses of the drug to achieve the same initial effects (tolerance), and when drug use is stopped, withdrawal symptoms can occur. Dependence is not the same as addiction. Addiction is when someone continues to take the drug even when they know it is severely affecting his or her life.

Is it dangerous to abuse prescription drugs in combination with other drugs?

Yes. Both prescription and over-the-counter drugs pose increased risk of health complications when combined with other prescription medications, over-the-counter medicines, illicit drugs, or alcohol. For example, combining opioids with alcohol can intensify respiratory distress and lead to death.4


  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA InfoFacts: Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications. ( Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Published June 2009. Retrieved February 2012.
  2. Johnston, LD, O'Malley, PM, Bachman, JG, & Schulenberg, JE. (2012). Monitoring the Future National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Key Findings, 2011. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan. Available at
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. NIDA Research Report: Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction. ( NIH Publication No. 11-4881. Bethesda, MD: NIDA, NIH, DHHS. Published July 2001. Revised October 2011. Retrieved February 2012.
  4. Levine, DA. (2007). “'Pharming': The abuse of prescription and over-the-counter drugs in Teens.” Current Opinion in Pediatrics. Vol. 19, No. 3, pages 270-274.

Source:  National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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Tips for Teens

For tips on… how to party safely by avoiding:

  • Prescription drug misuse/abuse
  • Binge drinking
  • Drunk driving
  • Unprotected sex
  • Drug overdose
  • Drink spiking
  • Sexual assault
  • Gatecrashing
  • Fighting
  • Injury
  • Getting arrested


Tips to avoid driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol

  • Stay smart and speak up. Remember that the effects of drugs and alcohol last for hours. Even if your friends haven’t had a drink in a while, it could still be dangerous for them to drive. If you are in a healthy state of mind and have your driver’s license with you, ask for the keys and get the group home safely.
  • Find another ride. Try to find sober friends to give you a lift.
  • Call someone to pick you up. Okay, so you might not want to call Mom or Dad to get you from a party, but chances are they’ll be happier that you called them rather than put yourself in a dangerous situation. You could also call another family member or trusted adult.
  • Crash at the host’s house. If possible, wait it out until morning and stay put. Just make sure to let someone know where you are and that you are safe.
  • The BEST advice: Plan ahead. If you know people will be drinking, pick a designated driver before you head out. Better yet, throw your own booze and drug free bash

For more ideas visit:

Tips to Be SMARxT!

  • Only use prescription( Rx) or over the counter (OTC) medications as directed by your medical professional.
  • Never share your medications.
  • Dismiss the pressure! If it seems that “everyone else” is abusing Rx and OTC drugs, they’re not.
  • In terms of abuse, prescription drugs are not safe alternatives to street drugs.
  • Addiction can occur just as easily with Rx drugs as it does with street drugs.
  • Possessing a Rx drug without a prescription is illegal and a felony offense (punishable by jail time).

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Resources for High School Students

  • It's Drug Abuse Video
    It’s Drug Abuse
    Recorded at New Albany High School 2/11/09
    View the "It’s Drug Abuse" Video or
    Download the Script (PDF)
    A skit-based program for high school students highlighting the dangers of abusing prescription medications. This program was prepared by Alli Hall at New Albany High School. Alli’s script (PDF) and a recording of an assembly conducted for all New Albany High School seniors are provided above.
  • PeerX
    The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, offers an online initiative called PEERx to educate 13-15 year olds on the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
  • Don't Get Me Started Ohio
    Don’t Get Me Started Ohio
    Painkiller abuse is destroying the lives of young people and adults across Ohio. On this site you’ll see their harrowing stories, learn about the dangers of prescription drug addiction and find out where to go for help.
  • Rock and Recovery
    Rock and Recovery
    Rock & Recovery mixes inspiring stories and messages of strength, and hope, from professional health-care providers, addicts, comedians and family members. These powerful stories and meaningful messages are carefully woven in between hand-picked music.

Info for teens… by teens

  • Above the Influence
    Above The Influence
    Every teen’s life is filled with pressure, some of it good, some of it bad. Our goal is to help teens stand up to negative pressures, or influences. The more aware you are of the influences around you, the better prepared you will be to face them, including the pressure to use drugs, pills, and alcohol.
  • Drug Screening
    Do I have a Drug Problem?
    A confidential on-line self-test for teenagers to take to identify drug problems.
  • Check Yourself
    Check Yourself
    This Web site is a cool way for you to be more aware of the influences around you and can help you carefully consider the risks when you’re faced with tough decisions.
  • DXM: What's the Big Deal?
    What’s the deal with DXM?
    Make up your own mind about cough medicine. DXM is an abbreviation for the drug dextromethorphan, which is an effective cough suppressant ingredient found in many over-the-counter cough medicines. When taken according to directions, products containing DXM produce few side effects and have a long history of safety and effectiveness. When abused, DXM has dissociative effects and can cause serious damage, like illicit drugs.

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Skittles Invitation

Did you know that this is the street name for DXM in cold medications?

Every 19 minutes…

another American dies from an unintentional drug overdose.  And we’re not talking about street drugs…

  • Prescription drug abuse is the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
  • 27% of Ohio High School students report using prescription drugs illegally.
  • 40% of teens consider the abuse of prescription drugs to be much safer than street drugs.
  • 10% of teens say using prescription drugs to get high is an important part of fitting in.

Talk to your school.  Help be the change.

Contact Fran @ the Stark County Anti-Drug Coalition to become part of the change at your school. - (330) 455-6644 -

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Games & Activities

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