Prescription Drug Addiction Information

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has declared the ongoing prescription drug addiction problem in the U.S. a “national epidemic.” Prescription drug addiction rates have skyrocketed in almost every state in recent years, leading to widespread investigations into the source of this explosive growth.

Researchers suggest that several factors have come together to create the current prescription painkiller epidemic. Learn more about this frightening issue and find out what you can do to help battle dangerous prescription pill misuse.

Prescription vs. OTC Drugs

Prescription medications are those a health care professional, typically a doctor, recommends to a patient. A doctor may prescribe addictive painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and codeine for a variety of conditions, from migraines to persistent cough to chronic pain. These particular prescription painkillers are opioids, made with ingredients derived from the opium poppy.

Prescription drugs are specific to the individual patient and are intended for only one person. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates prescription medications with the formal New Drug Application process.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications, on the other hand, are readily available. A person can visit almost any drug store or local supermarket and purchase OTC drugs such as cough syrup, cold medicine and mild pain relievers (such as aspirin) without a prescription. OTC drugs are not specific to any one person. The FDA regulates these drugs with OTC Drug Monographs, or a recipe book of sorts.

Causes of the Prescription Drug Addiction Epidemic

Researchers are still learning about the causes and sources of the current prescription drug abuse epidemic, conducting surveys and trying to get to the bottom of what has caused this major issue.

It appears that a few principal reasons for the frightening spike in prescription medication abuse, addiction and overdoses include:

  • Overprescribing issues
  • Ease of access
  • Misinformation about the addictiveness of prescription drugs
  • Misconception that prescription drugs are less harmful or dangerous than illegal drugs

Thousands of prescription drug users start out as normal patients with a legitimate health complaint. A patient may receive a prescription for a powerful medication from the doctor without realizing the high risk of addiction.

Soon, the patient builds up a tolerance to the drug and must take larger amounts to achieve the same effect. Then, the patient experiences withdrawal when not on the drug. This means the patient is now addicted to harmful prescription drugs. Education and awareness about the dangers of prescription medication can help reduce the number of addicted patients in the country.

Overprescribing of Prescription Drugs

A survey of 5,000 American College of Physicians (ACP) certified doctors in 2016 found that many were overprescribing medications. Overprescribing doesn?t just include painkillers. More than one-fourth (27 percent) of doctors in the survey admitted to prescribing antibiotics when they provided no value for patients.

When asked about medications doctors prescribed despite the drugs? questionable values for the patient, 9 percent reported use of aggressive treatment for terminally ill patients, 7 percent for chronic pain, and 5 percent for dietary supplements. Overprescribing is a serious problem that stems in part from defensive doctoring, or prescribing something to avoid liability for harm in the future.

Common Types of Prescription Drugs

There are three major types of addictive prescription drugs a doctor may prescribe a patient for pain, anxiety, depression or other conditions:


Also referred to?as benzos, these anti-anxiety medications make up a class of psychoactive drug. Benzo withdrawal causes many patients to become addicted.

Opiates (aka Opioids)

These drugs relieve pain, using the same ingredient (opium) found in heroin. They are highly addictive and often act as a gateway drug to heroin, fentanyl or morphine use.


Stimulants increase blood pressure, heart rate, energy, attention, and alertness. Adderall and Ritalin are two examples of highly addictive prescription stimulants.

Learning about the three most addictive types of prescription drugs can help you avoid taking them more than prescribed, and you may choose to look to alternative forms of treatment instead. If prescribed one of these medications, always stick to the directions of your prescription carefully to avoid drug misuse and addiction.

Stats on Prescription Drug Abuse in the U.S.

The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) World Drug Report 2012 estimated that around 36 million people abused opioids around the world the previous year. During this time, around 2.1 million U.S. citizens had prescription painkiller abuse issues.

The number of annual prescription painkiller-related overdose deaths has more than quadrupled in the U.S. since 1999. Additionally, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) recorded more than 1.2 million emergency department visits for non-medical use of prescription or OTC medication in it latest national report (2011).

The most common type of drug involved in emergency department visits was pain relievers (46 percent), followed by narcotic pain relievers (29 percent). The number of people who received treatment for painkiller use exceeded the number for cocaine, heroin and tranquilizer use combined in 2011.

If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription drug addiction, seek help from a professional rehabilitation facility. Help is readily available.

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