Prescription medications and some over-the-counter medications are increasingly being abused (used in ways other than intended or without a prescription).  This practice can lead to addiction, and in some cases, overdose.  Among the most disturbing aspects of this emerging trend is its prevalence among teenagers and young adults, as well as the common misperception that because these are used medically or prescribed by physicians, they are safe even when not used as intended.  Commonly abused classes of prescription drugs include opioid painkillers, stimulants, and depressants.

Opioids are usually prescribed for pain relief.  Commonly prescribed opioids include hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin ®), oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin ®), morphine, fentanyl, and codeine.  In the United States, more people now die from opioid painkiller overdoses than from heroin and cocaine combined.

Stimulants: Methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Concerta®, Focalin®, and Metadate®) and amphetamines (Adderall®, Dexedrine®) are stimulants commonly prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Depressants are usually prescribed to promote sleep or to reduce anxiety. As measured by national surveys, depressants are often categorized as sedatives or tranquilizers. Sedatives primarily include barbiturates (e.g., phenobarbitol) but also include sleep medications such as Ambien® and Lunesta®. Tranquilizers primarily include benzodiazepines such as Valium® and Xanax®, but also include muscle relaxants and other anti-anxiety medications.

“Syrup,” “Purple Drank,” “Sizzurp,” or “Lean” describes soda mixed with prescription-strength cough syrup containing codeine and promethazine—these cough syrups are available by prescription only. Users may also flavor the mixture with hard candies. Drinking this combination has become increasingly popular among some celebrities and youth in several areas of the country. Codeine is an opioid that can produce relaxation and euphoria when consumed in sufficient quantities. Promethazine is an antihistamine that also acts as a sedative.

More information can be found at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) website:

Commonly abused over-the-counter drugs include cold medicines containing dextromethorphan (DMX), a cough suppressant. Products containing DMX can be sold as cough syrups, gel capsules, and pills (that can look like candies). They are frequently abused by young people, who refer to the practice as “robo-tripping” or “skittling.” Pseudoephedrine, a decongestant found in many over-the-counter cold medicines, is another over-the-counter medication that is used illicitly. Although not typically abused in itself, it is one ingredient used to produce methamphetamine. For more information about prescription drug abuse and related health consequences, go to

Resource:  National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)