Prescription and Illicit Drug Abuse

Frequently Asked Questions

9. Which types of prescription medications do older adults abuse the most?

The prescription medications most commonly abused by people of any age are opioids (painkillers), depressants, and stimulants.

Doctors prescribe opioids to relieve pain and, sometimes, to treat severe coughs and diarrhea. Common opioid prescription medications include the following:

  • morphine (MS Contin®, Kadian®, Avinza®), which is used before and after surgical procedures to treat severe pain
  • codeine (Tylenol with Codeine®, Robitussin AC®), which is prescribed for mild pain
  • hydrocodone (Vicodin®, Lortab®, Zydone®), which is prescribed to relieve moderate to severe pain
  • oxycodone (OxyContin®, Percodan®, Percocet®, Tylox®, Roxicet®), which is used to relieve moderate to severe pain
  • fentanyl (Duragesic®), which is a strong pain medication typically delivered through a “pain patch” and prescribed for severe ongoing pain

For more on opioids, see “What Are the Possible Consequences of Opioid Use and Abuse?"

Depressants are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders. The types of depressants that are most commonly abused are barbiturates (Secobarbital® ,Mebaral® and Nembutal®) and benzodiazepines (Valium®, Librium®, and Xanax®).

For more on depressants, see “What Are the Possible Consequences of CNS Depressant Use and Abuse?"

Stimulants are used to treat narcolepsy (a sleep disorder), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression that has not responded to other treatments. These medications increase alertness, attention, and energy. Stimulants include methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®), and amphetamines (Adderall®).

For more on stimulants, see “What Are the Possible Consequences of Stimulant Use and Abuse?"