Part 1: The Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic

Prescription drug abuse has become a growing epidemic in the United States. Fifty-two million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically at least once during their lifetime.1 Every day 44 people die from an overdose of painkillers.2 Prescription drug abuse occurs when drugs have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties and are not taken as prescribed or are taken by someone to whom they were not prescribed.3 The most abused types of drugs are opioids, followed by tranquilizers and stimulants.4

Opioids are pain medications that decrease the strength of pain signals to the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which reduces the effects of a painful stimulus. Opioids include oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (e.g., Kadian) and hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin). Since these drugs affect the regions of the brain responsible for reward, some users may experience a euphoric reaction.5

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