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Article Summary

The Health Effects of Prescription Drug Use

The health risks associated with prescription drug abuse vary depending on the drug. For example, abuse of opioids, narcotics and pain relievers can slow or stop breathing. The abuse of depressants, including benzodiazepines and other tranquilizers, barbiturates and other sedatives, can result in seizure, respiratory depression and decreased heart rate. Stimulant abuse can lead to high body temperature, irregular heart rate, cardiovascular system failure and seizure. Inappropriate use of prescription drugs, including use without a prescription or medical supervision, or using in a manner other than exactly as prescribed, can lead to addiction in some cases.The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) receives reports of emergency department (ED) episodes involving the non-medical use of legal drugs. These can involve the deliberate abuse of prescribed or legally obtained over-the-counter (OTC) medications or of pharmaceuticals diverted for abuse. Accidental overdoses or adverse reactions to OTC or prescription drugs taken as directed are not reportable to DAWN unless they are present in combination with an illicit drug. During 2005, there were an estimated 598,542 ED visits that involved non-medical use of prescription or OTC pharmaceuticals or dietary supplements. CNS agents were involved in an estimated 305,973 ED visits and psychotherapeutic agents were involved in an estimated 275,430 visits.

Number of ED Drug Mentions, Non-Medical Use of Selected Psychotherapeutics, 2005

Drug

Mentions

Psychotherapeutic agents

275,430

    Antidepressants

  61,023

    Antipsychotics

  37,327

    Antiolytics, sedatives, and hypnotics

204,711

    CNS stimulants

  10,616

CNS agents

305,973

    Analgesics

264,857

Respiratory agents

  26,694

Cardiovascular agents

  30,246

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