An Analysis of Prescription Drugs
Prescription drugs can improve the quality of life for people with a variety of medical conditions. Many of them, however, have psychoactive properties which make them tempting to abuse and give them high addiction potential. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy notes that prescription drug abuse has been classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Certain types of prescription drugs are more likely to be abused than others. The National Institute on Drug Abuse lists opioids, stimulants and central nervous system (CNS) depressants as among those most frequently abused. Polydrug abuse, or the abuse of more than one type of drug, is common. Sometimes a secondary drug is used to counteract unwanted effects from a primary drug of choice, and sometimes multiple drugs are used together for their synergistic effects.
Opioids are drugs that are chemically similar to those derived from the opium poppy like heroin. Most opioids are marketed as painkillers and are generally abused for their euphoric effects. The CDC notes that the number of deaths related to drug overdose has more than tripled since 1990 and that nearly three fourths of such deaths are caused by prescription opioid painkillers. They note that more overdose deaths are caused by prescription opioids than by cocaine and heroin combined. Common opioids include the following:
- Oxycodone – Drugs containing oxycodone include OxyContin, Percocet and Percodan. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) notes that controlled-release formulations like OxyContin are especially attractive to drug abusers because of their high potency. An article in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News lists OxyContin as the most abused prescription drug of 2013.
- Hydrocodone – Drugs containing hydrocodone include Vicodin and Lortab. In a 2013 report, the DEA notes that there are several hundred brand names and generic products marketed and that hydrocodone abuse has increased among all ethnic and economic groups.
- Oxymorphone – Opana is a primary brand name of oxymorphone. Because of rising rates of Opana abuse, the product was reformulated, but abuse is still possible and generic versions of oxymorphone are still available.
- Fentanyl – Fentanyl is marketed under the brand names Duragesic and Actiq among others. It is often sold as a transdermal patch and may also be administered in the form of shots, lozenges, pills, quick-dissolving film or nasal spray.
- Hydromorphone – Dilaudid is the most common brand name of hydromorphone. It is a semi-synthetic drug derived from morphine and is often used intravenously.
- Buprenorphine – Buprenorphine and naloxone are combined and sold as Suboxone. Ironically Suboxone is a drug prescribed to treat addiction, but addiction to Suboxone is a growing problem. A 2013 article reports that police seizures of Suboxone increased from 21 in 2003 to more than 8,000 in 2010. The Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News article lists Suboxone as the second-most abused prescription drug of 2013
Stimulants are often prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. They are commonly abused as study drugs for those wishing to enhance academic performance. They also suppress appetite and may be abused by people wishing to lose weight. Following is a list of commonly abused stimulants:
- Methylphenidate – Methylphenidate is contained in Ritalin and Concerta. An article in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry notes that the clinical picture of methylphenidate abuse is quite similar to that of cocaine.
- Dextroamphetamine – Dextroamphetamine is sold under the brand name Dexedrine. The drug is sometimes used by military forces for sustaining alertness in long overnight missions.
- Amphetamine – The ADHD drug Adderall contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Although there are molecular differences, Adderall is similar in some ways to the street drug methamphetamine.
Central Nervous System Depressants
Central nervous system (CNS) depressants are often prescribed for anxiety or insomnia or are marketed as muscle relaxants. There are many drugs that depress the CNS including the following:
- Barbiturates – Barbiturates were once widely prescribed for anxiety, insomnia and sometimes depression, but their usage has declined for safety reasons. Drugs in the barbiturate class include phenobarbital, marketed as Luminal or Solfoton, pentobarbital, sold as Nembutal, and Secobarbital, commonly known as Seconal.
- Benzodiazepines – Benzodiazepines have replaced barbiturates as the most commonly prescribed anxiolytics. Commonly abused benzodiazepine drugs include alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin), diazepam (Valium), triazolam (Halcion) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium)
- Non-benzodiazepine sleeping medication – Medications prescribed to treat insomnia that are not in the benzodiazepine class include zolpidem (Ambien), zaleplon (Sonata) and eszopiclone (Lunesta).
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