Prescription Drugs

There are drugs that are supposed to be prescribed by a doctor.  Some people take prescription drugs that are not prescribed for them.  They may have heard that it is fun or that the drug will have a certain effect.  They may be trying to fit in and be cool.  Some people think that prescription drugs are safer than "street" drugs, but that is not true.  Prescription drugs are only safe when they are taken by the person they are prescribed for in the way the doctor prescribes.  They can be just as dangerous as other substances bought on the street.  A person may think it is not against the law to take a prescription drug as it is to take a "street" drug.

These are the 3 main types of prescription drugs that are abused most often:

  • Opioids - oxycodone (Oxycotin), hydrocone (Vicodin), meperidien (Demerol).  These drugs are usually prescribed to treat pain, cough or diarrhea.  They may be swallowed, crushed and snorted or dissolved in water and injected.

  • Stimulants - methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall).  These drugs are prescribed to treat epilepsy and ADHD.  These drugs may be swallowed, crushed and snorted or dissolved in water and injected.

  • Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants (also often referred to as sleeping pills or tranquilizers) - pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax).  These drugs are prescribed to treat anxiety, tension, panic attacks and sleep disorders.

Some over the counter (OTC) drugs are also abused, such as some cough syrups that have dextromethorphan.  Small doses or these medicines are safe, but higher doses can cause problems with the senses.  They can lead to confusion, stomach pain, numbness and even hallucinations.  Some OTC medications can also be used to make illegal drugs.

The effects of prescription drugs depend on a person's physical make-up and experience with the drug.  The effects also depend on which drug is used, how much and if any other drugs were taken around the same time.  It is very risky to take prescription drugs along with other substances such as alcohol, illegal substances or other prescription drugs.

The basic effects of each type of prescription drug are outlined below:

Short Term Effects


  • Feel drowsy

  • Droopy eyelids

  • Cold, moist, bluish skin (at higher doses)

  • Slower breathing

  • Nausea

  • Confused

  • Constipated

  • May lost consciousness

  • Less pain

  • Strong feeling or pleasure or euphoria


  • Faster heart rate, breathing, metabolism

  • Blood pressure goes up

  • Feel more alert, excited

  • More energy

  • Less appetite, weight loss

  • See things that aren't there - hallucinations

CNS Depressants

  • Slower heart rate and breathing

  • Blood pressure goes down

  • Less pain and anxiety

  • Feeling of well-being

  • Less inhibited and may say or do things you usually wouldn't

  • Poor concentration

  • Very tired

  • Loss of coordination

  • Memory problems

Long Term Effects


  • Constricted pupils

  • Moody

  • Menstrual irregularities

  • Problems passing urine (peeing) and severe constipation

  • Risk of diseases from sharing needles


  • Feel anxious, threatened, paranoid

  • Seem angry or hostile and ready to argue or fight

  • See things that aren't there (hallucinations)

  • Repeat certain movements

  • A feeling like bugs are crawling under or on the skin (formication)

  • Dangerously high body temperature

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Seizures

  • Risk of diseases from sharing needles

CNS Depressants

  • Less coordinated

  • Depressed

  • Slower reflexes

  • Risk of diseases from sharing needles

Withdrawal Effects


  • Severe anxiety

  • Problems sleeping

  • Pain in muscles and bones

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Heavy sweating

  •  Shaking, tremors

  • Clod flashes with goose bumps ("cold turkey")

  • Kicking movements ("kicking the habit")


  • Moody

  • Sleep and eating changes

  • Very tired

  • Depressed

  • Angry and hostile

  • Feel anxious, threatened, paranoid

CNS Depressants*

  • Anxiety

  • Problems sleeping

  • Muscle shakes (tremors)

  • Not hungry

  • Fast heartbeat

*There can be very dangerous complications when withdrawing from CNS Depressants.  It is important to be medically supervised.


BC Children's Hospital

This is an agency of Provincial Health Services Authority, providing provincial tertiary mental health services to the citizens of British Columbia. Programs include: Adult Tertiary Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry, Forensic Psychiatric Services, Child & Adolescent Mental Health, Women’s Reproductive Mental Health, as well as the Provincial Specialized Eating Disorders Program for children and youth located at the BC Children’s Hospital.

Provincial Health Services Authority

Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) is one of six health authorities – the other five health authorities serve geographic regions of BC.

Ministry of Health

British Columbia Ministry of Health

RBC Children's Mental Health Project

RBC Children’s Mental Health Project is RBC's cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar; RBC Children’s Mental Heath Project is a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues.

BC Children's Hospital Foundation

Through a wide range of fundraising events and opportunities, The BC Children's Hospital Foundation is united with its donors by a single, simple passion - to improve the health and the lives of the young people who enter BC Children's Hospital every day.