Opioids are abused by more than 20 million people in the United States each year. Opiods, also known as narcotics, are painkillers that are made from the opium poppy or synthesized to imitate those drugs. Natural opiods include codeine and morphine, both of which are available by prescription only.
Synthesized prescription opioids include oxycodone, sold under the brand names OxyContin and Percocet; hydrocodone, sold as Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab, and Norco; fentanyl, known by its brand name Duragesic; meperidine, sold under the name Demerol; and hydromorphone, known as Dilaudid. All the opioids are chemically related to one another, and also to the illegal drug heroin.
Opioids relieve pain and produce a high or a relief from anxiety when they interact with opioid receptions in the brain. When a patient takes an opioid that’s been prescribed to relieve pain, in most cases, they don’t become addicted. However, when opioids are taken in high doses and for reasons other than pain relief, including to get high or to relieve anxiety, they can become extremely addictive. They can also serve as gateway drugs that open the door to heroin use and abuse.
Other Prescription Pills
The two other major categories of prescription pills that are widely abused are stimulants and central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Like opioids, these drugs are prescribed for valid medical reasons, but become dangerous when used for non-intended purposes or when given to someone other than the patient they were prescribed for.
CNS depressants such as triazolam (Halcion), phenobarbital, diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax) are used legitimately to treat anxiety and insomnia. They affect the central nervous system, decreasing brain activity. However, patients can easily develop a tolerance to these drugs, requiring higher doses to get the same effect. They’re also dangerous if paired with alcohol.
Stimulants increase energy levels and also provide a focusing effect for the brain. Popular stimulants, such as dextroamphetamine (Dexedrin) and methylphenidate (Ritalin), are prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sleep problems, and depression. These drugs are often abused by students or workers with late shifts who want an extra boost of energy and alertness. However, when taken in excess, these drugs lead to irregular heartbeat and addiction.