The Risks and Safe Use of Prescription Drugs

Updated on March 7, 2023

An estimated 66% of adults in the U.S., or 131 million people, take one or more prescription drugs to help manage their health conditions.  While the majority of people rely on these drugs to treat chronic conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, and cancer there is also a growing epidemic in the use of prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes. According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics (NCDAS), young adults are the heaviest users with 6% of Americans over the age of 12 abusing prescriptions each year.

Prescription drugs can be a valuable aid in helping patients manage a variety of conditions, however, they can also pose serious risks if they are not used properly. This article has set out a guide to understanding the risks and safe use of prescription drugs.

What Are Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drugs are medications that can only be prescribed by a licensed healthcare provider, such as a physician, nurse practitioner, or clinical psychologist. These medications typically fall into four main categories as follows:

  • Pain relievers: These drugs are designed to relieve or eliminate pain by attaching to receptors in the brain to block the transmission of pain signals from the nerves to the brain. Examples include opioids such as oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), meperidine (Demerol), and morphine. 
  • CNS Depressants: Central nervous system (CNS) depressants work to slow down brain activity resulting in a drowsy or calming effect. This category of prescription drug includes tranquilizers, sedatives, and hypnotics and is typically prescribed to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, and seizures. Common examples include benzodiazepine drugs such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), phenobarbital (Luminal), and lorazepam (Ativan). Browse this site if you’d like more answers to the question ‘what are Benzodiazepines?
  • Stimulants: Prescription stimulants are generally prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, or obesity. They include amphetamines (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin), and Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine).

The Risks of Prescription Drugs

While prescription drugs play a critical role in modern medicine, helping patients to manage and treat a wide range of health conditions, it is also important to recognize the risks that such drugs can pose, enabling you to make an informed decision regarding your health.

Side Effects

One of the most significant risks associated with prescription drugs is the potential for adverse side effects. Many prescription drugs can trigger stomach issues, such as nausea, diarrhea, or constipation as they move through the digestive system. In addition, certain prescribed medications, including antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and drugs for blood pressure or diabetes, may lead to dizziness and headaches, or more severe side effects such as seizures, heart palpitations, or allergic reactions. Some drugs can also cause drowsiness, depression, or irritability, while others may cause weight gain, interfere with sleeping patterns, or affect your sexual desire or ability. 

Drug Interactions

Another significant risk associated with prescription drugs is the potential for drug interaction where patients are taking more than one type of medication at the same time. When different drugs interact, it can lead to unexpected side effects such as increased drug activity or causing a drug to be ineffective. This is especially the case for drugs that affect the central nervous system, such as opioids or benzodiazepines which can lead to potentially life-threatening respiratory depression when combined with other medications or substances.

Drug Misuse

While prescription drugs can provide significant benefits when correctly used, the misuse of prescription drugs can lead to addiction, overdose, and death and should, therefore, be another risk to be considered.

The misuse of prescription drugs can take many forms which include taking a higher dosage of medication than prescribed, taking medication in combination with alcohol or other psychoactive drugs, using medication that has been prescribed for another person, or taking medication for the purpose of getting “high.” The prescription drugs most often misused include opioid pain relievers, anti-anxiety medicines, sedatives and stimulants.

The Safe Use of Prescription Drugs

Below are some tips for the safe use of prescription drugs:

  1. Follow the instructions: Always follow the instructions provided by your healthcare professional and on the prescription label, ensuring you take the medicine at the right time and in the right amount.
  2. Mention other medications: Be clear with your healthcare professional about any other medications you are taking, as well as any medical conditions you have or have had in the past. This can help prevent harmful interactions or reactions.
  3. Keep a record: Make a note of the medications you are taking, including the name, dosage, and any side effects you experience. This can help you and your healthcare professional keep track of your progress and make any adjustments if necessary.
  4. Know the side effects: Be aware of any potential side effects and know what to do if you experience them. Contact your healthcare professional if you have concerns.
  5. Stick to your dosage: Do not alter your dosage without consulting your healthcare professional first.
  6. Do not share medication: Only take medication that has been prescribed to you by your healthcare professional. Do not share medication with others or use someone else’s medication.

This information will enable you to safely and responsibly use prescription drugs for your health.

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.