What Are the Most Abused Prescription Drugs?

Posted on February 2nd, 2014

If you want to know the drug of choice for those abusing prescription medications, why not just ask them? That was the thinking behind a national survey which learned that oxycodone ranked number one thanks to the quality high it offers.

A study by researchers from the Washington University Medical School and Nova Southeastern University in Miami polled 3,500 anonymous individuals currently receiving drug treatment at 160 facilities from coast to coast, with 200 participants giving up their anonymity for follow-up interviews.

The team found that oxycodone was the favorite of 45 percent of those surveyed and hydrocodone was favored by 30 percent. One reason that oxycodone tops the list is that the drug is available in a pure form. Until just recently, hydrocodone has always been mixed with acetaminophen or another pain reliever. Oxycodone is also known as OxyContin and Percocet, and hydrocodone is commonly sold as Vicodin.

Young men with a taste for thrills were found to prefer oxycodone, while women preferred hydrocodone. They also learned that half of those in rehab for addiction to prescription painkillers started off with a genuine problem controlling pain.

Oxycodone is designed to be swallowed, but a significant number of users, 64 percent, crush the pills and then snort the drug. Around 25 percent of hydrocodone users do the same. The survey also found that 20 percent of oxycodone abusers mix the crushed tablet with water and then inject it. This method was used by fewer than five percent of hydrocodone abusers.

One reason hydrocodone is not injected as often is because of the acetaminophen it contains. Acetaminophen is painful when it is injected. The FDA’s recent approval of hydrocodone without acetaminophen will likely make it more popular with abusers. While users are willing to abuse drugs they were concerned with health issues to the point that they stayed away from the acetaminophen because it is damaging to the liver.

Though few wanted to migrate to stronger prescription drugs like dilaudid or fentanyl as the risk of overdose was considered too great, sadly many abusers reported moving on to street drugs like heroin. Heroin delivers a similar high to opioids like oxycodone and hydrocodone but it costs far less. Thus our nation’s struggle against prescription drug abuse may quickly morph into a renewed battle against street drugs.

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