Myth vs. fact: The dangers of prescription medication abuse



By Elizabeth Riner, guest columnist

I bet every person who reads this article knows someone who has abused a prescription medication, such as the psychostimulant Adderall. You might be thinking, “Why should I care? It happens all the time, especially during exams! These drugs are safe, otherwise they wouldn’t be legal.” However, this is not correct.

This is one of many common myths regarding prescription drug abuse. Some of the most frequently abused prescription medications include psychostimulants such as Adderall, opioids such as OxyContin and benzodiazepines, such as Xanax.

Most commonly, prescription drugs are abused in order to get high or party, to stay awake, to study and for experimentation. There are a lot of myths surrounding prescription drug abuse, leaving many people misinformed about the dangers of these risky practices.

Myth: Prescription drugs are safer to misuse than illicit drugs.

Fact: Prescription drugs can be just as dangerous as other drugs.

Prescription medications are only safe when used by the person for whom they are prescribed and in the way in which they were prescribed. In fact, when prescription medications are taken without a valid prescription, taken with alcohol, misused or abused, they can be just as dangerous as illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

Medications are prescribed in a particular dose and frequency in order to cure, prevent or treat disease in one specific individual. The health care practitioner who prescribes the medication, as well as the pharmacist who fills the prescription, are both well aware of the drug’s potential side effects and interactions with other drugs, foods and disease states. The lack of this individualized knowledge is the reason why it is so dangerous to take a prescription medication that is not your own.

Some of the risks specifically associated with taking Adderall include increased blood pressure and heart rate, headaches, mood changes, insomnia, psychosis and adverse cardiovascular events. Adderall abuse is especially dangerous for students with underlying or undiagnosed health conditions, like heart disease or overactive thyroid, because of the risk for serious adverse events, such as sudden death.

Yes, death is a legitimate potential outcome of self-medicating or abusing prescription medications.

Myth: Prescription drugs are not addictive because they’re from a doctor.

Fact: Some prescription drugs are even more addictive than illegal drugs.

Prescription medications with addictive potential are prescribed in a certain dose and frequency in order to help reduce the risk of becoming addictive. Many medications are also classified as controlled substances due to their potential for abuse and development of physical and psychological dependence.

Adderall, Vyvanse and Concerta are all Schedule-II controlled substances, which by definition are classified because they have the highest potential for abuse and development of dependency of any medications that can be legally prescribed.

Additionally, many of the most commonly abused medications are very similar to illicit drugs. For example, Adderall is a mixed amphetamine compound and Ritalin and Concerta are both the drug methylphenidate, which has a pharmacological profile that is nearly identical to that of cocaine.

It has been noted by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse that Adderall abusers are twenty times more likely to use cocaine or heroin once the body builds up a tolerance to Adderall.

When used appropriately and under the monitoring of a doctor, these medications can be very safe and effective. However, when they are being abused, these medications can be just as dangerous and addictive as their illegal counterparts.

Myth: Using prescription drugs without a prescription is not bad or illegal.

Fact: Possessing a controlled substance that is not prescribed to you is a felony offense.

It is important to realize that using, possessing or distributing a controlled substance not prescribed to you is considered a felony offense. Being charged with first-time distribution of a Schedule-II controlled substance, such as Adderall, is punishable by a mandatory five-year federal sentence.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose death rates in the U.S. have more than tripled since 1990, with over 90% of deaths being caused by prescription drugs.

Only use medications that are prescribed to you and in the way in which they were prescribed. Every day, students who abuse prescription medications are not only putting their own lives in at risk, but also the lives of those with whom they share their medications.