The abuse of prescription drugs has been on an increase for many years.  Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, and the Center's Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic.  The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.

The number of emergency room visits and the number of deaths from prescription drugs has increased greatly over the past 15 years.  CDC’s analysis shows that 38,329 people died from a drug overdose in the United States in 2010, up from 37,004 deaths in 2009 and 16,849 in 1999. In 2010, nearly 60 percent of the US drug overdose deaths (22,134) involved pharmaceutical drugs.

It should not be a surprise that the most addictive drugs are also the most abused.

Which Prescription Drugs Are Abused The Most?

The most abused prescription drugs tend to fall into three main categories:  opioids, sedatives/depressants and stimulants.


Let’s start with the most abused prescription drugs: opioids.  These drugs are in the same family as heroin.  They are typically prescribed for pain relief and sometimes cough suppression.   According to the same CDC report, US overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics have increased from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 15,597 in 2009 and 16,651 in 2010.  So prescription opioid deaths have increased by more than 400% in the past 11 years.

Over two-thirds of Americans abusing prescription drugs are abusing opioids.  Opioids are particularly dangerous because they slow the heart and breathing.  Opiate addiction frequently begins with a prescription due to an injury or other pain.  For some people, opiates are incredibly addictive and your body can become physically dependent on them, which then requires people to take more for the same pain relief or high.

The most commonly abused opioids are:

Generic Name                    Brand Name

  • Fentanyl                                  Duragesic, Actiq
  • Hydrocodone                          Vicodin, Lortab, Lorcet
  • Hydromorphone                      Dilaudid
  • Oxycodone                             OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan
  • Codeine                                   Robitussin A-C, Tylenol with Codeine
  • Propoxyphene                         Darvon, Darvocet-N
  • Meperidine                              Demerol



Depressants are the second most abused prescription drug.  The most abused prescription depressants fall into three categories: barbiturates, benzodiazepines and sleep medications.  Depressants slow brain activity and general body functions, they are generally prescribed for anxiety or as relaxants and sleep aids.  In addition to slowing brain activity, they lower blood pressure and slow breathing.

The most commonly abused depressants are:

Generic Name                                    Brand Name

  • Barbiturates                                         Amytal, Seconal, Phenobarbital
  • Benzodiazepines                                 Ativan, Halcion, Valium, Xanax
  • Sleep Medications:
  • Zolpidem                                               Ambien
  • Zaleplon                                                Sonata
  • Eszopiclone                                          Lunestra



Stimulants are most often prescribed for ADHD (attention deficient hyperactivity disorder), ADD (attention deficient disorder) and narcolepsy (sleeping disorder).  Stimulants are often abused in order to stay up for longer periods of time.  Some feel they aid in concentration or focus, and can be an appetite suppressant.

These are the most abused stimulants

 Generic Name                               Brand Name

  • Amphetamines                                    Adderall, Dexedrine
  • Methylphenidate                                 Ritalin, Concerta


Wondering if someone you know is abusing prescription drugs?  You can find out the warning signs.

Looking for more information about Prescription Drug abuse?

Want to know the difference between Vivitrol and Suboxone?

There is hope for those affected by prescription drug abuse.  There are a number of support meetings available across the country.  You can also contact New Hope Recovery Center for information about our programs or referrals to programs near you., 888-707-HOPE(4673), or

Written By: New Hope Recovery Center