About prescription drug abuse

When used properly, prescription drugs can help. But, there are many dangerous and unpredictable side effects associated with abusing prescription drugs including addiction, overdose and death.

Learn about prescription drug abuse and how to prevent it.

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What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is intentionally taking medication in a way that was not prescribed. For example, some people may do this to get high or change their mood.

The most common types of prescription drugs abused include:

  • opioids (used to treat pain),
  • benzodiazepines (used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders), and
  • stimulants (used to treat attention deficit disorder).

Abuse of these medications can cause serious health effects, including addiction, overdose and even death. Many people are not aware of these potential risks.

The risk of harm, overdose, and death rises when these medications are:

  • taken at higher doses,
  • taken in a different way or for different reasons than prescribed, or
  • used with alcohol or other substances (prescription, over-the-counter or illegal drugs).

Prescription drug abuse in teenagers

Prescription drug abuse is a growing public health and safety problem in Canada, particularly among youth. In the 2012 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, approximately 410,000 Canadians reported abusing prescription drugs like opioid pain relievers.

The abuse of prescription drugs has harmful effects on teens' health. They are especially vulnerable because their bodies and minds are still developing. It can damage a teen for life.

Psychoactive pharmaceuticals are the third most commonly-abused substances, after alcohol and marijuana, among Canadian youth. Last year, over 80,000 Canadian teenagers used prescription drugs to get high, even though it can be very dangerous.

Why do teenagers abuse prescription drugs?

Teenagers may choose prescription drugs over illegal drugs for a number of reasons:

  • They may have a misperception that prescription drugs are less dangerous when abused than illegal drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor.
  • Compared to illegal drugs, prescription drugs may be seen as more attractive for youth because these drugs are legal.
  • They might also think that getting prescription drugs is easier than getting illegal drugs. The abuse of prescription drugs by youth often involves obtaining these drugs from a friend, a relative or from home.

However, teenagers often do not understand the risks of prescription drugs. Prescription opioids can be just as dangerous as illegal opioid drugs such as heroin.

How can I help prevent prescription drug abuse?

You can securely store, monitor and properly dispose of your prescription drugs to help prevent prescription drug abuse.

Here are some tips to help you:

  • Keep medication in a secure place, such as a locked box or cabinet.
  • Keep track of your prescription drugs by counting the pills in each package.
  • Avoid sharing your medication with family or friends, even if they have been prescribed the same drug before.
  • Return any unused or expired medications to your pharmacy or to a take-back program.
  • Keep track of your refills at the pharmacy. Make sure there are none that you did not fill yourself.

Get help

Are you struggling with drug abuse? Is someone you care about having a problem?

Help is available, whether you need it for yourself, a friend, or a family member.

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