Prescription painkillers are drugs that doctors prescribe to patients who suffer from intense pain. Drugs in this class are called opioids because they resemble molecules found in the opium plant. (Morphine is one such substance present in opium plants.)
Opioids are prescribed to:
- relieve pain
- inhibit coughing
- prevent diarrhea
Examples of commonly prescribed opioids:
- hydrocodone (found in Vicodin, Lortab, & Lorcet)
- oxycodone (found in OxyContin, Percodan, & Percocet)
- propoxyphene (found in Darvon)
- hydromorphone (found in Dilaudid)
- meperidine (found in Demerol)
- diphenoxylate (found in Lomotil)
- fentanyl (found in Duragesic)
Some people incorrectly think it is safe to use these drugs to get "high" because they are legal and prescribed by doctors. However, inappropriate use of prescription opioids can have a variety of dangerous side effects, including addiction and death.
Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers: Most people use prescription painkillers for legitimate medical reasons under the guidance of a doctor. However, some people take prescription painkillers simply for enjoyment because these drugs can produce:
- pleasant feelings of relaxation and happiness
- euphoria (intense sensations of physical and emotional well being)
In addition to these pleasant sensations, prescription opioids can also cause feelings of
Effects on the body: Prescription painkillers are nervous system depressants that cause
- decreased heart rate
- slow breathing
- decreased blood pressure
- small pupils
How are prescription painkillers taken? Most prescription painkillers are swallowed as pills, although some come in liquid form that can be swallowed or injected.
Risk of addiction: High (if not used properly under the supervision of a doctor)
Overdose: High doses of prescription painkillers can cause severely impaired breathing, extremely small ("pinpoint") pupils, a cold and clammy feel to the skin, limp weak muscles, low blood pressure, extreme drowsiness, loss of consciousness, convulsions, coma, and death. Overdoses involving these drugs kill more people than overdoses of the illegal drugs cocaine, heroine, and methamphetamines combined.
How are prescription painkillers produced? Prescription painkillers are synthesized by drug companies for medical use. Doctors can legally prescribe these drugs to their patients for the control of severe pain, coughing, or diarrhea. However, it is illegal to use such drugs if they were prescribed for another person.
How quickly do prescription painkillers act? Prescription painkiller pills typically exert their effects within 10 to 20 minutes, and even faster when the drug is swallowed in a liquid form or injected. The effects usually last for two to four hours.
Drug tests for prescription painkillers: Some prescription painkillers can be detected in the urine using standard drug tests. But in the case of the most widely used painkillers, low-to-moderate use of OxyContin is not typically detected and Vicodin is not detected at all. However, these drugs can be detected using specialized tests.
How many students abuse prescription painkillers? The most popular prescription painkillers abused by teens are Vicodin and OxyContin. Among 8th through 12th graders, about 6% have used Vicodin and almost 4% have used OxyContin within the past year.