Misuse of prescription drugs means taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed; “GP shopping” in order to access multiple prescriptions, taking more than is prescribed, taking someone else’s prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain; or taking a medication to feel euphoria (i.e. to get high).
In Australia, two categories of prescription drugs are most commonly abused: Benzodiazepines and Analgesics. Benzodiazepines are minor tranquilisers and are most often prescribed by doctors to relieve anxiety or help people sleep. Benzodiazepines include drugs under the popular brand names Valium, Xanax, and Serepax. Analgesics are medications used to relieve pain. Opioid analgesics such as Codeine and Oxycodone are the most commonly abused analgesics due to their ability to create sensations of euphoria.
Many people assume that because a doctor prescribes a drug, it is safe to take, even in doses and ways other than how it was originally intended. However, prescription drugs act directly or indirectly on the same brain systems affected by illicit drugs so they carry the same risk of addiction, and can lead to a variety of other adverse health effects if misused.
People misuse prescription medications for a variety of reasons: to manage anxiety, pain (emotional or physical), or sleep problems; to counter the side effects of illicit drugs (used as uppers or downers), to enhance performance, or to get ‘high.’