Information on Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription medicines taken properly help heal illness, relieve pain, control disease and bring balance to your life. But when others take your medications, they can be very dangerous.

An alarming trend is occurring. When youth in Trumbull County schools were asked during the2015-2016 school year whether they had taken a prescription drug not prescribed to them, 10% said they had done so within the last 30 days. This is a higher number than the national average of 6%.  Commonly abused prescription drugs range from pain relievers and depressants to stimulants and over-the-counter medicine.


Trumbull County Students
Past 30 Day Use

Source: Pride Surveys Report: 2015-16 Trumbull County Schools

Your nightstand. Their drug supplier.


Photo of boy.


What’s in your medicine cabinet? On your nightstand or the kitchen counter? In your purse? Naturally, you keep prescription medicines and cold and cough remedies handy for you to take when needed. But, they are also handy for teens to take without you knowing it.

Adolescents believe that since the medicines were prescribed by a doctor, they provide an inexpensive, legal and “medically safe high.” In the case of over-the-counter remedies, most children have been given these medicines by their parents for common illnesses, such as fevers, colds and coughs. So, teens believe it is safe to take these drugs whenever they choose. The spread of pharmaceutical ads on television as well as the Internet and peer misinformation helps contribute to this attitude.

Source of Pain Relievers for Abusers

Ages 12 and older

Pie chart.

More disturbing facts from

We often ask: Why? Teens give many reasons for abusing prescription and over-the-counter drugs, such as wanting to “fit in,” relieve depression and anxiety, help them cope with life’s stresses, sleep better or increase their alertness and concentration power so they can do better in school. Some want to control their weight with stimulants. Others want to self-medicate to relieve pain. They want to experiment. They want to be accepted by their peers. They want to escape reality or make their reality more bearable.

The abuse of over-the-counter drugs by teens is largely with cough and cold medicines that contain dextromethorphan (DXM) to get high. Some young people are also abusing laxatives, diuretics and diet pills to control their weight. Some herbal or “natural” products can be just as dangerous as diet pills because they act like a stimulant on the nervous system.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are:

1. Pain relievers (opioids). These powerful medications are used primarily to treat pain and can be found in some cough medicines:

Types: Prescribed For: Sample Brand Names:
Morphine Severe Pain Kadian, MS Contin, Oramorph SR
Oxycodone Severe Pain OxyContin, Roxicodone, Percodan, Percocet
Codeine Coughs, mild pain Tylenol with Codeine, Robitussin with Codeine
Others Pain Darvon, Dilaudid, Demerol, Ultram, Vicodin, Tramadol

Appeal: Can produce quick, intense feeling of pleasure followed by a sense of well being and a calm drowsiness

2. Depressants, also known as tranquilizers and sedatives:

Prescribed For:

Sample Brand Names:

Anxiety, tension, sleep disorders, severe stress reactions, panic attacks

Mebaral, Nembutal, Seconal, Soma, Phenobarbital, Klonopin, Xanax, Valium, Librium, Halcion, Ativan, Rozerem, Ambien, Lunesta

Appeal: Causes euphoria or relaxation and sleep

3.  Stimulants or uppers:

Prescribed For:

Sample Brand Names:

Respiratory problems, sleep disorders (narcolepsy), attention-deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), short term treatment of obesity, depression

Adderall, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Focalin, Methylin, Concerta, Vyvanse, Daytrana

Appeal: Increases alertness, attention and energy, feeling of extreme joy, gives them energy to stay awake, increases concentration, become more talkative, and lose weight

4.  Over-the-counter drug abuse with dextromethorphan (DXM), which is called  “robo-tripping” by teens:

Used to Treat:

Sample Brand Names:

Cough, colds, sinus pressure (with DXM) , Sleep Problems

Alka-Seltzer, Contac, Coricidin, NyQuil, Robitussin, Sudafed, TheraFlu, Vicks, Nytol, Benadryl, Unisom, Tylenol PM

Weight control:
Laxatives, diuretics
Diet Pills, with ingredients, such as Ephedrine, caffeine, laxatives

Ex-lax, Dulcolax, MiraLax
Alli, Apidexin, Phenphedrine, Liporexall, DecaSlim, Colovox

Appeal: Creates a high, relieves pain, reduces anxiety, suppresses appetite, helps them sleep or lose weight, and gives them an edge in sports or school

If you suspect a friend or family member is using drugs, do not wait to act. Call 211 for Help.


Your words. Today’s slang.

Every generation has their own slang, but the lingo today’s teenagers use could mean something dangerous if they are abusing prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. For example, you go “fishing” for salmon or walleye, they go “phishing” for pharmaceuticals. Words that sound innocent to your ears may have another meaning on the street.

Click here and see if you can guess the drug culture’s definition of these common words or expressions:  Close the Communication Gap

Your lifesaver. Their lifetaker.

When your doctor prescribes medicine for you, the effects are closely monitored. But when others abuse medicines that are prescribed for someone else, no one is monitoring their dosage or frequency of use. They can become addicted, poisoned or even die from an overdose.

All too often, prescription or over-the-counter drugs are combined with other substances, like alcohol or marijuana, which can lead to dangerous consequences. And, sometimes teens attend “pharm or rainbow parties” where various prescription medications are dumped into a bowl and randomly ingested.

Watch for these signs and symptoms


Short-Term Effects of Abuse:

Long-Term Effects of Abuse:

Pain relievers (opioids)

Physical side effects: relief from pain, lack of energy, drowsiness, constriction of the pupils, flushing of the face and neck, nausea, constipation, vomiting, slowed breathing, nightmares

Psychological side effects: anxiety, impaired judgment, inability to concentrate and learn, apathy, agitation, depression

Addiction, physical dependence, paranoia, hallucinations, dementia

Severe withdrawal symptoms when teen stops taking the drug, including deep depression and suicidal thoughts

Need to take more of the drug or a combination of drugs to produce the same high, possibly leading to overdose

Higher risk of graduating to heroin


Physical side effects: loss of coordination, dilated pupils, slurred speech, relaxed muscles, shallow breathing, sluggishness, fatigue, dizziness, drowsiness, fever, hyperactivity, visual hallucinations

Psychological side effects: poor concentration, feelings of confusion, disorientation, impaired judgment and memory, lowered inhibitions, rage, hostility, depression, amnesia, paranoia

Addiction, dependence

Severe withdrawal symptoms

Need to take larger doses to achieve the same effects

Shallow breathing, clammy skin, weak and rapid pulse, seizures, overdose, coma


Physical side effects: decreased appetite, loss of coordination, collapse, increased heart and respiratory rates, elevated blood pressure, dizziness, tremors, headache, flushed skin, chest pain, excessive sweating, vomiting, abdominal cramps

Psychological side effects: restlessness, delusions, hostility, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, agitation, nightmares

Addiction, high fever, convulsions, heart failure, overdose

Paranoia, aggressiveness, extreme anorexia, thinking problems, visual and auditory hallucinations, delusions, panic, suicidal tendencies, severe dental problems

Over-the-Counter Drugs

Physical side effects: nausea, headache, blurred vision, dizziness, vomiting, loss of consciousness, numbness of fingers and toes, loss of coordination, abdominal pain, irregular heartbeat, aches, seizures

Psychological side effects: impaired judgment, restlessness, euphoria, cold flashes, dizziness, diarrhea

Addiction, insomnia, panic attacks, psychosis, high-blood pressure, damage to nerves, muscles and tissues in large intestine, coma


If you suspect your friend or family member has overdosed on any of these drugs, seek medical help immediately.

Solutions. Their protection.

Quite frequently one merely opens the medicine cabinet and finds a variety of drugs available for the taking: pain pills for post-surgery; sleeping pills from an overseas airplane trip; cough medicine from last season’s flu.  The time to act is now. You are the key to your loved one’s drug-free future.

Take the following preventative steps:

For more information visit:

Designated prescription medicine drop off locations:


Additional Resources...

Partnership for Drug Free Kids - a New York City-based non-profit organization which runs campaigns to prevent teenage drug and alcohol abuse and offers resources for parents and teenagers on its website.

What to Do If Your Teen or Young Adult Has a Problem with Drugs- Find answers to many common questions in this article on the National Institute on Drug Abuse website

How to Talk to Your Kids About Drugs if You Did Drugs- This one page poster offers 12 conversation tips

Take Charge Ohio- A website  that offers healthcare professionals the resources and tools to properly educate patients on safe medication and pain management practices and also helps educate patients about the scope of the problem, its impact in Ohio, and how to take action through  free, ready-to-use resources.