Last updated: September 25, 2023
What would be the response to someone seeking to know the name of the deadliest drug in the United States? Answers come pouring in—heroin, cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamines. The truth? It’s none of those “recreational” drugs. The very medications used to improve quality of life for the intended patient turn out to be the biggest culprits. More than half the annual drug overdose deaths in America are caused by prescription drugs. The increase in the past decade is considered an epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One demographic in danger isn’t even able to fill their own prescriptions. In 2009, 2.7 percent of eighth graders and eight percent of 12th graders abused the opioid painkiller Vicodin. Where do teenagers get the drugs? Most of the time, they are able to obtain them easily from friends and/or family.
Example #1: Emily overhears her parents discussing how her brother’s ADHD medication is helping him curb his ravenous appetite. Emily wants to lose weight, so she sneaks a few pills every few days.
Example #2: Edwin’s father recently underwent surgery to repair a broken leg. Several weeks after the surgery, Edwin finds the bottle of opioid pain killers on a shelf in the kitchen. He decides to take the whole bottle to his room and use them whenever he has a headache or some other pain.
Example #3: Harry is over at a friend’s house. His friend, Terrence, beckons him into the bedroom. “I’ve got some cool pills Mom used to take,” he says as he hands you a small bag. “Keep them hidden and try them when you get home.” Edwin follows his friend’s advices and is very quickly addicted to oxycodone.
Because of how they’re obtained, prescription medicines are often thought to be safer than illegal drugs. This false perception only adds to the already dangerous physically addictive properties of many prescriptions. The people obtaining the medication are also usually vulnerable due to the very illness or injury that necessitated the prescription in the first place.
All prescription drugs have side effects, but these side effects will become amplified if a person abuses the drug. Timed released drugs are designed to protect the system from an overdose. If a person circumvents the timed release feature of a drug by crushing it, he or she will receive a faster response from taking the drug and increase the risk of serious side effects. The more some medications are used, the more is necessary for a high, which means finding ways to achieve a high quicker, which means even more common sense is abandoned.
Abuse of prescription drugs is also on the rise among women and the middle class according to the CDC.
- women are more likely to be prescribed prescription painkillers because they suffer more often from chronic pain
- women are more likely to receive higher doses, and use the painkillers over a longer period of time than men
- women may become dependent more quickly than men and practice “doctor shopping”
If prescriptive medicine is the most abused and most deadly, opioids are the most dangerous class of all prescription drugs. In 2002, opioid analgesic poisoning was a greater cause of death than heroin or cocaine. Out of all prescription drug-related deaths in 2010, 3/4 are attributed to opioid analgesics.
To help avoid the abuse of prescription drugs, only take the amount your physician prescribes you. Follow the directions on the bottle. When you’re finished taking them, dispose of them appropriately. Taking these steps may help protect yourself and others from abuse, overdose and death due to America’s most deadly drugs.