In 2015, the misuse of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs was second only to marijuana as the most prevalent illicit drug use problem in the U.S. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), prescription psychotherapeutics include painkillers, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives. But what are the most abused prescription drugs? An estimated 119 million Americans were prescribed some type of prescription drug in 2015. Of this number, 18.9 million people reported the misuse or abuse of these drugs, either theirs or someone else’s.
Painkillers Are the Most Abused Prescription Drugs
With abuse reported by more than 16 million people, prescription painkillers are the most abused prescription drugs by a significant amount. Prescription painkillers include:
- Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Norco)
- Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet)
- Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
Prescription painkillers are a major culprit in the opioid overdose epidemic that is overtaking America. Many people are introduced to opioids through prescriptions by trusted doctors but very quickly realize the addictive powers these drugs possess. Once they’ve started on a course of opioid treatment, many people find themselves misusing and abusing their prescription painkillers and finding out just how difficult it is to stop.
Stimulants Rank Second in Abuse
Nearly 10 and one-half million of those surveyed reported misuse or abuse of prescription stimulants, making them the second-most abused prescription drug. Prescription stimulants include drugs like:
- Amphetamines (Adderall, Vyvanse)
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)
With 10.7% of students reporting non-prescription use of Adderall, prescription stimulants are being found on college campuses across the nation. Stimulants allow students to stay up for longer periods of time in order to study and complete work, making them popular in highly competitive universities.
Tranquilizers Come in Third
Nearly 9 million of those surveyed said they have misused tranquilizers such as:
- Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium)
- Muscle relaxers (Soma, Flexeril)
Tranquilizers are popular due to their relaxing effects combined with a euphoric high. As with all of the misused prescription drugs, tranquilizer abuse is most common among those in the 18 to 25 age range. Abstaining from tranquilizers is difficult without participation in a recovery program.
Sedatives See Smaller Numbers
Finally, 1.7 million people report misusing or abusing sedatives in some form. Sedatives are popular when combined with opiates to increase the effects experienced. While it’s a smaller number in comparison to opiates or stimulants — the most abused prescription drugs— it’s still an incredible number of people. Prescription sedatives include:
Combining Drugs for Maximum Effect
Using prescription drugs in combination with one another increases the effects of each, resulting in the crossover between the misuse of many types of these drugs. With opiates being the most abused prescription drug, it is clear why their use has been so widely covered in the media. As the abuse of prescription drugs continues to rise, the control over these substances should as well. Resources “Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States” SAMHSA https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR2-2015/NSDUH-FFR2-2015.htm “2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health” SAMHSA https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015/NSDUH-DetTabs-2015.pdf “2015 Monitoring the Future” National Institute on Drug Abuse http://www.monitoringthefuture.org//pubs/monographs/mtf-vol2_2015.pdf