Prescription Drugs are NOT a Safe Alternative to Illicit/Illegal Street Drugs

More people die from overdose of prescription painkillers than they do from heroin and cocaine. In 2008, the number of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers outnumbered deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.


Every day in the United States, about 60 people die as a result of prescription drug overdose. Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs. In 2010, of the 38,329 drug overdose deaths in the United States, 22,134 (60 percent) were related to pharmaceuticals.


College students who use prescription stimulants for nonmedical reasons are almost twice as likely to have alcohol dependence and four times as likely to have marijuana dependence.

Studies have shown that nonmedical prescription stimulant use does not necessarily provide academic benefit and may be detrimental to your health. There is growing evidence suggesting that nonmedical prescription stimulant use does not confer substantial academic benefit. Although stimulant medications – when used safely under proper medical supervision for the treatment of ADHD – can be instrumental in achieving therapeutic goals related to academic performance, there is no basis for making the assumption that similar benefits can be attained by "healthy" individuals using the drugs intermittently and without medical supervision.

Some students believe that stimulants such as Adderall® or Ritalin® are effective study aids, even for people without attention disorders. However, a survey of Arizona State University students provides evidence to the contrary. Of those students who reported using stimulants in the past year, 33 percent reported an 'A' cumulative grade point average, compared to 52 percent of nonusers.


"The Smartest Path" video – Is using Adderall® or Ritalin® really the smartest path to being successful in college? From UC San Diego Student Health Services. 2013.


In 2011, about 1.4 million emergency department (ED) visits involved the nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals. Among those ED visits, 501,207 visits were related to anti-anxiety and insomnia medications, and 420,040 visits were related to opioid analgesics. Benzodiazepines (anti-anxiety and insomnia medications) are frequently found among people treated in EDs for misusing or abusing drugs. People who died of drug overdoses often had a combination of benzodiazepines and opioid analgesics in their bodies. Among people who misused or abused drugs and received treatment in emergency departments in 2011: 56 percent were males; 82 percent were people 21 or older.


If a prescription is written by a doctor, isn't the medication safe to use?

Not when it is misused or abused. Many people think that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit/street drugs, but they can be JUST as dangerous. There are a number of things that are required to make a drug as "safe" as it can be. These safety measures include making sure physicians know your medical history and prescription activities, and taking it as directed for the purposes that the physician intended.

Prescription drugs can have powerful effects both emotionally and physically within body. This is true of many prescriptions. Combinations of drugs can change the way these drugs are processed. Adding alcohol can further devastate the intended purpose of the medications. These dangers are why there are laws against sharing prescriptions with others, no matter the good intention.


Nearly 48,000 women died of prescription painkiller* overdoses between 1999 and 2010. For every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, 30 go to the emergency department for painkiller misuse or abuse. Although men are still more likely to die of prescription painkiller overdoses (more than 10,000 deaths in 2010), the gap between men and women is closing. Deaths from prescription painkiller overdose among women have risen more sharply than among men; since 1999 the percentage increase in deaths was more than 400 percent among women compared to 265 percent in men.

*"Prescription painkillers" refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.


Of those reporting both nonmedical prescription pain reliever (NMPR) and heroin use in the past year, 77 percent were found to have initiated NMPR use prior to initiating heroin.


For more information about prescription drug abuse