The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs: Identifying the Risks

The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs: Identifying the Risks

Prescription drug use has been on the rise over the past decade, with sharp increases in the past couple of years. What may seem like a harmless prescription pill can easily become a serious problem for some. The National Institute on Drug Abuse released a study revealing that a staggering 14.3 million people misused prescription drugs in the past 12 months.  

Thankfully, not everyone who misuses prescription drugs develops a problem. Still, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 8.7 million people had a prescription drug use disorder in the past year. These alarming numbers are a wake-up call for anyone with prescription medication in their house. And since about 45.8% of the U.S. population used prescription drugs in the last 30 days, that’s a large portion of the population.

What are some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs and the risks associated with them? When is it time to reach out for help for prescription drug use, and where can you find the help you need?

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The Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs

 Nearly half of the U.S. population uses prescription drugs each month. Most people follow their prescription as ordered and have no problem with their use. Unfortunately, about 5.1% of people misuse prescription drugs each year, and about 3.1% have a prescription drug use disorder

Prescription drugs fall into one of three categories: prescription pain relievers, prescription stimulants, and prescription tranquilizers. What are some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs within these categories?

Prescription Pain Relievers

Prescription pain relievers, more commonly known as opioids, are a type of medication typically prescribed to treat pain. They are part of the opioid crisis still gripping the United States. Prescription pain reliever abuse is responsible for the large majority of deaths due to drug overdose.

According to the NSDUH, 5 million people reported having a prescription pain reliever use disorder in 2021. Some of the most commonly abused prescription pain relievers include OxyContin, Oxycodone, and Vicodin.

Prescription Sedatives and Tranquilizers

Prescription sedatives and tranquilizers are the second-most commonly abused prescription drugs. Also known as central nervous system depressants, prescription sedatives are prescribed to treat anxiety disorders and sleep disorders. The NSDUH reports that about 2.2 million people had a prescription sedative or tranquilizer use disorder in 2021. Some of the most abused prescription drugs in this category include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin.

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants are the third type of commonly abused prescription drug. Physicians most often prescribe these drugs to patients living with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). About 1.5 million people reported having a prescription stimulant use disorder in 2021. The most abused prescription stimulants include Adderall and Concerta.

Finding Help for Prescription Drug Use

Prescription drug use may start with a legitimate need but can progress into a serious problem over time. The danger becomes even greater when people shift from genuine prescription medication to illegally manufactured pills. With the ongoing spread of fentanyl in many illicit drugs, the likelihood of taking fentanyl-laced pills continues to grow.

Finding help for prescription drug abuse is the best thing you can do. Reach out to a program like Silver Pines to find a solution to your substance abuse problem. Whether you need an inpatient residential program or an intensive outpatient program, Silver Pines can connect you with the program that best meets your needs. Call us at 267-719-8689 or submit an online contact form to speak with an admissions specialist and start your path to recovery today.

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020). What is the scope of prescription drug misuse in the United States?.
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2022). National Survey on Drug Use and Health 2021.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Prescription Drug Use in the United States, 2015-2016.
  4. The Harvard Gazette. (2023). Remember opioid crisis? It’s gotten worse.

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