Medication Information

Commonly Misused Prescription Medication Information

Prescription medications are only safe when obtained from a pharmacy and used under the direction of your doctor. Always be aware of fake pills which can contain lethal doses of fentanyl or other unknown substances and remember to practice safe medication storage and disposal!

Pain Killers Q&A

Codeine, OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin

These are opioids or narcotics.

Relief from pain. In some people, prescription pain relievers also cause euphoria or feelings of well-being by affecting the brain regions that mediate pleasure. This is why they are abused. Other effects include drowsiness, constipation, and slowed breathing. Taking a large single dose of prescription pain relievers can cause severe respiratory depression that can lead to death. Use of prescription pain relievers with other substances that depress the central nervous system, such as alcohol, antihistamines, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or general anesthetics, increases the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression.

Taken exactly as prescribed, pain relievers can manage pain effectively. But chronic use or abuse of opioids can result in physical dependence and addiction. Dependence means that the body adapts to the presence of the drug, and withdrawal symptoms occur if use is reduced or stopped. Symptoms of withdrawal include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, and cold flashes with goosebumps.

Tolerance to the drugs’ effects also occurs with long-term use, so users must take higher doses to achieve the same or similar effects as experienced initially. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disorder characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use.

Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants Q&A

Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium), non-benzodiazepine sleep medications (Ambien, Lunesta, Sonata), barbiturates (Mebaral, Luminol Sodium, Nembutal).

CNS depressants, sometimes referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, are substances that can slow brain activity. This property makes them useful for treating anxiety and sleep disorders.

CNS depressants are mainly used to treat sleep and anxiety disorders. They can also be used for alcohol withdrawal, seizures, as a muscle relaxant, or to help patients prior to undergoing anesthesia. Most CNS depressants act on the brain by affecting neurotransmitters that facilitate communication between brain cells called GABA receptors. Although each medication is different, it is their effect on these receptors that reduce brain activity, producing a drowsy/calm feeling.

CNS depressants slow normal brain function, which may result in slurred speech, shallow breathing, sluggishness, fatigue, disorientation, and lack of coordination or dilated pupils.

During the first few days of taking a prescribed CNS depressant, a person usually feels sleepy and uncoordinated, but as the body becomes accustomed to the effects of the drug, these feelings begin to disappear. Higher doses cause impairment of memory, judgment, and coordination, irritability, paranoia, and suicidal ideation.

Some people experience a paradoxical reaction to these drugs and can become agitated or aggressive. Using CNS depressants with other substances – particularly alcohol – can slow breathing, or slow both the heart and respiration and possibly lead to death.

Continued use can lead to physical dependence and – when use is reduced or stopped abruptly- withdrawal symptoms may occur. Because all CNS depressants work by slowing the brain’s activity, when an individual stops taking them, there can be a rebound effect, possibly leading to seizures and other harmful consequences. Tolerance to the drug’s effects can also occur, meaning that larger doses are needed to achieve similar effects as those experienced initially. This may lead users to take higher doses and risk the occurrence of an overdose. Addiction can also occur, meaning that users continue to take these drugs despite their harmful consequences.

Stimulants Q&A

Dexedrine®, Adderall®, Ritalin® and Concerta®

Prescription stimulants are medications which target the central nervous system and accelerate brain activity. They are typically used to increase energy and attention but also effect blood pressure, heart rate, and other bodily functions.

For people with ADHD or narcolepsy, stimulants can help boost energy, attention, and alertness. They are also prescribed for asthma, obesity, and low blood pressure resulting from anesthesia.  

Stimulants increase the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These chemicals increase heart rate and blood pressure, open up breathing passages, and decrease blood flow. When higher doses are taken, dangerous side-effects can occur. These include seizures, high body temperature, heart failure, and irregular heart beat.

Under medical supervision, stimulants can be used safely in the long-term. Doctors will ensure that there are no underlying conditions that could pose a risk before prescribing these drugs. The dangers of long-term usage occur when these drugs are abused and taken in high doses or by people with underlying conditions.

For people with ADHD, stimulants can be essential. However, the effect of these drugs is different for people who do not have ADHD. A study by the University of Rhode Island and Brown University found that use of stimulants does not improve academic performance for students who do not have attention disorders. While feelings of alertness increase, the benefits of this medication will not help someone who does not have a deficit in the first place.

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National Institute on Drug Abuse logo Pill Identifier

Center On Addiction

National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) - Commonly Abused Drugs

Use the Pill Identification Wizard (Pill Finder) to help you identify a pill based on its size, shape, color, etc. The website also features the following: 

  • Drug Information Database
  • Interactions Checker
  • FDA Alerts
  • New Drugs
  • News

Click here to learn more.

A comprehensive and up-to-date source of drug information. You can find drugs by name, slang term, and image. The website also features the following:

  • Help and Support
  • Relevant Statistics
  • How to Get Help
  • Parent and Community Resources

Click here to learn more.

Information about the most commonly abused drugs:

  • Commonly Abused Drug and Withdrawal Symptoms
  • Emerging Trends and Alerts
  • Easy to Read Drug Facts

Click here to learn more.

Song for Charlie

Song for Charlie is a family-run nonprofit charity dedicated to raising awareness about ‘fentapills’ — fake pills made of fentanyl. They partner with experts, educators, parents, and other influencers to reach the most vulnerable group: young people between the ages 13-30. Their programs highlight the emerging dangers of self-medication and casual drug use in the fentanyl era and encourage healthier strategies for coping with stress.

MEDS lethal doses graphic