*This article is excerpted from "Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction". For more information, go to www.prescriptiondrugaddiction.com

According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network, prescription drugs are among the most abused substances in the United States; these drugs are abused more than heroin and cocaine combined. Only marijuana use is more common than prescription drug abuse.

At the top of the list of prescription drugs being abused are benzodiazepines and painkillers. The Drug Abuse Warning Network keeps a ranking of such drugs, based on information gathered during hospital emergency room visits across the nation. The patient must indicate that a drug was being used for purposes of recreation or dependence in order for the episode to be considered drug abuse.

Most Abused Prescription Drugs in the United States
1. Alprazolam (Xanax)
2. Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab)
3. Unspecified benzodiazepines
4. Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Tylox)
5. Methadone
6. Clonazepam (Klonopin)
7. Propoxyphene (Darvocet-N, Darvon )
8. Amphetamine (Dexedrine)
9. Lorazepam (Ativan)
10. Carisoprodol (Soma)
11. Diazepam (Valium)
12. Methamphetamine (Desoxyn, speed)
13. Trazodone (Desyrel)

*Source: From Drug Abuse Warning Network Emergency Room Data. Based on drugs mentioned during emergency room visits in 2005.

Commonly Abused Painkillers

Opioids, more commonly known as painkillers, belong to a class of drugs also known as opiates, and are typically prescribed to relieve acute or chronic pain such as that from cancer or surgery. These drugs are also referred to as narcotic analgesics or pain relievers. For acute pain, opioids are normally used only for short periods—fewer than thirty days. Opioids may be taken orally or by injection.

Although they are medically indicated for the control of pain, opioids are drugs with high abuse potential. In addition to blocking pain messages being sent to the brain, opioids produce feelings of euphoria or pleasure. It is this sensation that makes the drug highly sought after by those wishing to free themselves from painful emotions. Chronic use of opioids results in both tolerance and dependence.

Common opioid products include:
Tylenol with Codeine

The active pain-suppressing ingredients in many opioids are oxycodone and hydrocodone. These two ingredients have slightly different chemical structures, but have similar effects on the body. Oxycodone is the active ingredient in a newer drug, OxyContin. Also known as “Oxys” or “O.C.,” OxyContin went on the market in 1996 and became the subject of headlines, where it was being reported as a drug that was being abused. This drug differs from other pain medications in that it contains larger amounts of oxycodone and is time-released, allowing it to act up to twelve hours, about three times longer than similar drugs. Many abusers intensify the narcotic high by crushing and snorting the drug.

Opioid Withdrawal

Stopping the use of opioids suddenly will bring on symptoms of withdrawal. Initial withdrawal symptoms usually begin within hours of the last dose and may include: cravings, running nose, excessive sweating, insomnia, and violent yawning. Those who have been addicted to opioids for a long time may progress to severe withdrawal symptoms, including: chills, fever, muscle spasms, and abdominal pain. Opioid withdrawal is rarely fatal.
Cessation of opioids is best accomplished under medical supervision, where withdrawal can be managed. A medically assisted withdrawal is safer and also increases the chance that an individual will successfully “come off” a drug.

Author's Bio: 

Rod Colvin is the Publisher and Editor-In-Chief of Addicus Books, Inc., as well as the author of "Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction".