Rx Drugs of Abuse
Painkillers or Opioids: Prescribed to treat pain
Include: Hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), propoxyphene (Darvon), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), and diphenoxylate (Lomotil), morphine (Kadian, Avinza) and fentanyl.
Also known as: Captain Cody, Cody, sizzurp, lean, syrup, schoolboy, doors & fours, loads, oxy, oxycotton, oxycet, hillbilly heroin, percs.
Effects on the brain and body: Drowsiness, nausea, constipation and depressed respiration. Can induce euphoria by affecting the pleasure center of the brain. This feeling is often intensified for those who abuse opioids when administered by routes other than those recommended. For example, OxyContin often is snorted or injected to enhance its effects, while at the same time increasing the risk for serious medical consequences, such as opioid addiction and overdose.
Long-term effects: Can be highly addictive when used for nonmedical purposes. Even patients who are prescribed painkillers for a long time can develop a physical dependence. Stopping the drug abruptly can cause severe withdrawal symptoms.
Signs of overdose
- Breathing problems, breathing may stop.
- Extreme sleepiness or loss of alertness.
- Small pupils.
Depressants: Prescribed to treat anxiety/acute stress and sleep disorders
Includes: Barbiturates to promote sleep; benzodiazepines (Valium and Xanax) to relieve anxiety; and non-benzodiazepinics (Ambien and Lunesta) to treat sleep disorders.
Also known as: Downs, barbs, benzos, reds, red birds, phennies, tooies, yellows, yellow jackets, candy, sleeping pills, tranks, xanies
Effects on the brain and the body: Although the different classes of depressants work in unique ways, they produce a drowsy or calming effect beneficial to those suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders.
Long-term effects: Depressants are highly addictive, and when chronic users or abusers stop taking them, they can experience severe withdrawal symptoms, including anxiety, insomnia and muscle tremors. Going cold turkey off of some depressants can have life-threatening consequences, like seizures, convulsions and, in rare instances, death.
Signs of overdose: Sleepiness, slowed or slurred speech, difficulty walking or standing, blurred vision, impaired ability to think, disorientation and mood changes. Symptoms can also include slowed breathing, very low blood pressure, stupor, coma, shock and death.
Stimulants: Treat asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders and other ailments. Also prescribed for the treatment of narcolepsy (a sleep disorder), ADHD and depression that have not responded to other treatments.
Include: Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta).
Also known as: Uppers, bennies, black beauties, crosses, hearts, truck drivers, JIF, MPH, R-ball, Skippy, the smart drug, vitamin R.
Effects on the brain and body: Affect the brain through a slow and steady release of dopamine and norepinephrine. Prescription stimulants can help regulate and normalize the dopamine and norepinephrine function in the brain, so a patient with this condition can focus better and pay more attention. Stimulants also increase blood pressure and heart rate, constrict blood vessels, increase blood glucose and open up breathing passages.
Long-term effects: Stimulants can be addictive. The more you take, the easier it is to get hooked. When stimulants are taken over a long period, stimulant abusers run the risk of developing suicidal or homicidal tendencies, paranoia and cardiovascular collapse.
Signs of overdose: Excessive vomiting, tremors, sweating and anxiety. When taken at high doses, with alcohol or with over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, stimulants can cause irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures and the potential for seizures or heart failure.
ABUSE-DETERRENT MEDICATIONS: Pharmaceutical companies are stepping up to the challenge of creating medications that are tamper-free, a formulation process that does not allow medications to be crushed, chewed, snorted or injected. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has recently released abuse-deterrent formulation recommendations that drug companies can use as general production guidelines. It is important that coalitions understand this new development, so they can support the creation and commitment to such strategies.
For more drug-specific information visit
Above the Influence, Prescription Drugs:
FDA, Guidance for Industry – Abuse-Deterrent Opioids – Evaluation and Labeling
National Coalition Against Prescription Drug Abuse
NIDA, How do opioids affect the brain and body?
NIDA, How do CNS depressants affect the brain and body?
NIDA, How do stimulants affect the brain and body?