Questions & Answers


    What is prescription drug abuse?
    Prescription drug abuse is when people use prescription medication that was not prescribed for them by a physician or when they do not take medication as it is prescribed. If a doctor prescribes medication to for a particular problem and it is used for a different reason, that is abuse. Abuse also takes place when someone takes a medication prescribed to another person and uses it to get “high.”

    Why is prescription drug abuse a problem?

    Drug Free World reports that more than 15 million people in the United States abuse prescription drugs, which is more than the combined reported total of people abusing cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin. And the Partnership at Drugfree says that abuse of prescription pain relief medication can lead to the misuse of heroin and other injected drugs. National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) statistics show that prescription and over-the-counter drugs are the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 years and older (after alcohol and marijuana).

    What are some of most commonly abused prescription drugs?
    According to NIDA, the most commonly abused prescription drugs are Opioids, Central Nervous System Depressants and Stimulants. Opioids are drugs used for pain relief, such as Oxycontin, Percocet, Vicodin and Codeine. These highly addictive and dangerous prescription drugs are in the same class as heroin. Central Nervous System Depressants slow down the mind and body, causing drowsiness. Some prescription drugs in this class are Valium, Xanax and Ambien. Stimulants increase activity, causing hyper alertness, attention and energy. Examples of these drugs are Adderall and Ritalin.

    Why do some people abuse prescription drugs?
    Prescription drugs can be easier to access than illegal drugs—most people have them in their homes. Some people who want to get high think prescription drugs are safer because they are regulated and prescribed by doctors. They do not realize that prescription medications can be as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Teens and adults often use prescription medication in the same way people sometimes use illegal drugs—to “self-medicate”—so that they can focus better on tasks, have more energy or deal with stress at school or work.

    Where do people who abuse prescription drugs obtain them?
    Most teens who abuse prescription drugs sneak or steal them from their families and friends. Teens often can buy prescription drugs from dealers in their schools. And prescription drugs are easy to purchase on the streets, where illegal drugs also are sold. Adult abusers may lie to doctors about their symptoms in order to continue to receive medications they have become addicted to. They also often jump from physician to physician, complaining about the same problem in order to get additional prescriptions.

    What over the counter drugs are most frequently abused?
    The most abused over-the-counter drug is dextromethorphan (DXM), found in cough suppressant medications. When used in large quantities instead of according to direction, it produces dissociative effects, making a person feel disconnected from their body. According to the website WebMD,, one in 10 American teenagers has abused products with DXM to get high, making it more popular in that age group than cocaine, ecstasy, LSD, and meth.

    What kinds of people tend to abuse prescription drugs?
    Prescription drug abuse has no boundaries and affects all social, economic, geographic and ethnic groups. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that prescription drug abuse is increasing among teens and young adults, as well as among older people who have multiple prescriptions.

    What can parents do to prevent their children from abusing prescription medication?
    Parents should educate themselves about prescription drug abuse and current trends. Two informative websites are National Institute on Drug Abuse,, and Partnership at Drugfree, It is important to keep track of prescription and over-the-counter medication in the house. Parents should talk with their children about drug abuse beginning in elementary school and continuing into their teens. Sharing information gleaned from reputable websites or giving the child an article to read is a good way to prompt constructive dialogue.

    What are the signs that someone is abusing prescription medication, and how can others help?

    If you suspect someone may be abusing prescription drugs, look for changes in the person’s behavior. People who are abusing drugs might exhibit mood changes ranging form euphoria to depression or might isolate themselves from family and friends. They might also experience health or physical changes such as nausea, stomach pain, dizziness, or headaches. Changes in sleeping routines, appetite changes and slurred speech are other things to look for. If you believe someone needs help because of prescription drug abuse, contact the Allegheny County Department of Human Services of Behavioral Health, Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services at 412-350-3328 for information about services in the Pittsburgh area.

    How can I safeguard my medication?
    Store your prescription medication in a secure place in the original bottles that provide information about their correct use. Monitor the number of pills you receive and use. Do not share or sell drugs your prescription drugs with anyone else. Discard unused or expired medications at the secure SAFE drop-off box in rear lobby of the Mt. Lebanon Public Safety Building; take advantage of National Take Back Initiatives, or go to and search for Rx drug disposal for more information about safely disposing of medication.

    What does an opioid overdose look like?
    Someone experiencing an opioid overdose may exhibit the following symptoms: no breathing or slow breathing; blue/gray lips and fingertips (or turning blue all over); inability to walk or talk; unresponsiveness; slow or nonexistent pulse. With these symptoms, a person can have brain injury or die within as few as four minutes.

    What should I do if someone I know overdoses?
    Allegheny County Health Department suggests: shake them; try to wake them; call their name. If no response, call 911 and begin rescue breathing (911 call-taker can talk you through this.) If the person has naxolone (Narcan) in a bottle, uncap and inject 1 cc with a syringe into the person’s upper arm or thigh. For nasal naxolone, spray in each of the person’s nostrils and continue rescue breathing until help arrives.

    What is naxolone (Narcan) and where can I get it?
    Naxolone is a safe, effective medication that can stop an opioid overdose. Paramedics carry it. Anyone who uses opioids should have naxolone in case of overdose. You can get training on how to use naxolone and a free prescription from Prevention Point Pittsburgh, Your own doctor also may be able to prescribe naxolone for you.