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A Parent's Guide to Drugs of Abuse - Part 2 - Prescription and OTC Drugs

Updated on September 6, 2011

This is Part 2 in a series about Drugs of Abuse. Although it is titled "A Parent's Guide" it contains information for anyone who has a loved one or friend who is addicted to drugs. Millions of people worldwide struggle with drug addiction each day. There are wasted lives, broken families, and tragic deaths. In this series I hope to provide some basic info on the more commonly encountered drugs of abuse, including some very new ones that you may not have heard about.

This segment will cover Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs.

What's in your medicine cabinet?
What's in your medicine cabinet? | Source

Prescription Drugs of Abuse

Abuse of prescription drugs, especially among teenagers, is becoming increasingly common. Children are finding that they can often have easy access to a variety of drugs right in their own homes. All they have to do is look in their parent's medicine cabinet or wherever else medications are kept in the house. They either already know where to find them or they can seek them out when they are home alone.

If there are none at home they can surely find someone at school or in the neighborhood that has them for sale. There is a good chance that the person selling the drugs got them from their parent's medicine cabinet!

Now that we know that these drugs are readily available let's look at what some of the more common ones are.

Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
Hydrocodone (Vicodin) | Source
Hydrocodone (Lorcet)
Hydrocodone (Lorcet) | Source
Oxycodone (Oxycontin)
Oxycodone (Oxycontin) | Source

Pain Killers (Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, etc.)

One of the most common types of prescription drugs available is hydrocodone. This is by far the most frequently prescribed opioid (opiate based) pain killer around. They are typically dispensed in tablet or capsule form, and less frequently in liquid form. Opioids are used as pain killers because their analgesic effects are similar to morphine, which is a very powerful drug coming from the opium plant. Some common hydrocodone products are Vicodin and Lorcet.

A similar pain killer is oxycodone, usually sold as Oxycontin or Percocet. The abuse of both, especially Oxycontin, has been growing greatly in recent years with tragic results.

Some slang names for hydrocodone and oxycodone are Oxy, Vikes, Hydro, Norco, Hillbilly Heroin, and Poor Man's Heroin.

Some effects of hydrocodone or oxycodone use are euphoria, sedation, drowsiness, confusion, apathy, nausea, and respiratory decrease. Outward signs of use or addiction can include constricted pupils, drowsiness, fear, irritability, and mood changes. Withdrawal effects often include restlessness, pain, insomnia, and vomiting.

Pain killers are highly addictive and are extremely dangerous during an overdose. Sadly, the most commonly abused prescription drugs among teens today are Vicodin and Oxycontin.

Diazepam (Valium)
Diazepam (Valium) | Source

Depressants and Stimulants

Depressants are typically prescribed for relief of tension or stress, insomnia, prevention of seizures, and muscle spasm relief. They are commonly referred to as sedatives or tranquilizers, or in slang as Downers. Some common depressants are Ativan, Valium, Xanax, and Rohypnol. Rohypnol, also known as Roofies, is also covered later in this series, in Part 4 - Club Drugs. Depressants come in a wide variety of pills and liquids.

Depressants cause reduced pain or anxiety, a feeling of well-being, lowered inhibitions, confusion, drowsiness, loss of coordination, and impaired judgment. In some cases, such as with Rohypnol, they may also cause memory loss.

Some signs of depressant use are loss of coordination, slurred speech, dilated pupils, and fatigue. The user may appear or act "drunk".

Depressants are very addictive. Persons can quickly develop a tolerance to depressants, needing more and more doses (or higher doses) to feel normal. With higher levels of the drug come an increased risk of overdose.

Stimulants are commonly prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), obesity, asthma and other breathing disorders, and sleep disorders. They are often known in slang as Uppers or Speed. Just as with depressants they come in a wide variety of pills and liquids. Some of the more common stimulants are Ritalin, Dexedrine, and Concerta.

Stimulants are normally taken orally but some abusers may open capsules and sniff or "snort" the powder that was inside. Some physical effects of stimulant use are a feeling of increased energy, exhilaration, and loss of appetite. High dosage or prolonged use may cause panic, hostility, and aggressive behavior.

Signs of stimulant use can include dilated pupils, restlessness, dizziness, hostility, excessive sweating, and vomiting.

Stimulants are also very addictive. As with depressants users can quickly develop a tolerance, needing more and more of the drug to feel normal. The higher levels lead to an increased risk of overdose.

Please be aware that there are many different depressant and stimulant drugs and I have only been able to list a few of the more common ones in this article.


Over-the-Counter Drugs

Also on the rise is the abuse of over-the-counter medications. The easy access to these drugs have made them an increasing problem with teen drug abuse. These drugs include cold and flu remedies, cough suppressants, and diet pills.

Most commonly abused are those cold or cough medications containing dextromethorphan (DXM). DXM is found in many preparations, such as Robitussin and Coricidin, along with others. Pills containing ephedrine and phenylpropranolamine are also frequently abused.

Some signs of the use of these drugs can be excitability, impaired judgement and coordination, lethargy, slurred speech, excessive sweating, dizziness, and seizures.

Depending on what has been taken, and how much of it, it is possible to have a fatal overdose on these drugs. Be aware that while one of these items in your teen's possession may appear to be harmless, it could be an indicator of dangerous behavior.

What is this pill?

If you find a pill that you need identified try contacting your local pharmacy or check one of the many online pill identification resources. has a great pill identifier site here. The more information you have, such as pill markings, colors, size, and shape, etc. the more success you will have at identifying the pill.

Learn more about Prescription and OTC Drugs with these books


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    • docbruin profile image

      docbruin 6 years ago from USA

      Thanks ktrapp! In my opinion, prescription and OTC drug abuse is the fastest growing area of abuse by teens. These drugs are prescribed so often now that they are widely available to kids, often in their own homes. Also, as you said drugs are available in all the schools anymore. Thanks for your comment!

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 6 years ago from Illinois

      This is a great series, and sadly so true. The high schools are full of drugs, even really nice high schools. There are kids that sell their ADD medications; vicodin, which is also left over after wisdom teeth removal; xanax and more.

      Not only do parents need to remove or lock up these drugs from their homes, they need to even if they think their kids are the kids that would never do this type of thing. Sometimes a kid will sell just to make a buck even if they don't use them. If your child is prescribed one of these drugs then give them the medication each day and make sure it is actually taken. It's sad this is what this world has come to, but thank you for sharing this series which every parent of middle school kids and older needs to read!