Live Responsibly

Help for Prescription Drug Abuse

Those affiliated with SMU are urged to contact SMU's Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention at 214-768-4021 to seek help for SMU students, faculty or staff thought to be abusing or misusing prescription drugs.

Assessments, interventions, referrals and short-term counseling, as well as ongoing support for recovering students, are available at the Center for those affiliated with the University.

In addition, the Center sponsors TIPS (Training for Intervention Procedures), which provides students with the information and skills they need to intervene with peers who are using drugs. Call 214-768-4021 to attend a session. Program goals include:

  • Learn how drugs affect people and the signs, symptoms and indicators of use
  • Share ideas for influencing peers to lower risk
  • Develop strategies for preventing drug-related tragedies on campus
  • Apply the information through discussion and practice exercises

Almost half of full-time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs, according to Wasting the Best and Brightest: Substance Abuse at America's Colleges and Universities (PDF). The landmark report finds that nearly 2 million full-time college students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence, two and one half times the 8.5 percent of the general population who meet these same criteria.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse and SMU provide the following facts to help you better understand and address the problem of prescription drug abuse:

What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is taking a medication that was prescribed for yourself or another in a manner or dosage other than what was prescribed. Abuse can include taking a friend’s or relative’s prescription to get high, to help with studying, or even to treat pain.

What are the most commonly abused prescription drugs?

  • Opioids (such as the pain relievers OxyContin, Hydrocodone and Vicodin)
  • Central nervous system depressants (e.g., Xanax, Valium).
  • Stimulants (e.g., Concerta, Adderall).

How can I help someone I suspect is abusing prescription drugs?

When someone has a drug problem, it’s not always easy to know what to do. If you are concerned about someone’s drug use (illicit or prescription), encourage him or her to talk to a parent, counselor, or other trusted person.

Call the SMU Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention at 214-768-4021. There are also anonymous resources, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK) and the Treatment Referral Helpline (1-800-662-HELP).

What’s wrong with abusing prescription drugs?

Virtually every medication presents some risk of undesirable side effects, sometimes even serious ones. Doctors consider the potential benefits and risks to each patient before prescribing medications. They understand that drugs affect the body in many ways and take into account things like the drug’s form and dose, its possible side effects, and the potential for addiction or withdrawal. People who abuse drugs might not understand how these factors may affect them or that prescription drugs do more than cause a high, help them stay awake, help them relax or relieve pain.

Is it dangerous to mix prescription drugs with alcohol?

When mixing alcohol with a prescription drug, the results can be unpredictable, dangerous and, at times, fatal. There is no set formula for what will happen when an individual consumes both alcohol and a prescription drug. Each person is different, and the results vary based on the type and quantity of medication and alcohol ingested, the time frame involved, the individual's tolerance to both the drug and to alcohol, as well as a series of unpredictable, unique factors. To be safe, never mix alcohol with any type of medication, whether prescription or over-the-counter, before first checking with a licensed health care professional.

How do prescription drugs affect the body, and what are the common effects?

Abusing prescription drugs can have negative short- and long-term health consequences. Opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants each affect the brain and body in different ways.

Aren’t prescription drugs safer than illegal drugs, such as cocaine or heroin?

Many people think that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit drugs like heroin because the manufacturing of prescription drugs is regulated or because they are prescribed by doctors. That’s true, but it doesn’t mean that these drugs are safe for someone who was not prescribed the drug or when they are taken in ways other than as prescribed.

Prescription drugs can have powerful effects in the brain and body, and they act on the same brain sites as illicit drugs. Opioid painkillers act on the same sites in the brain as heroin; prescription stimulants have effects in common with cocaine. And people sometimes take the medications in ways that can be very dangerous in both the short and long term. Also, abusing prescription drugs is illegal—and that includes sharing prescriptions with friends.

Is anyone who uses prescription drugs at risk for addiction?

Not all prescription drugs have the potential for abuse and addiction—many drugs don’t even act in the brain. For example, antibiotics, which are used for infections, are not addictive.

Play it safe. Read the information that comes with the prescription and that is written on the container. These will include the doctor’s instructions for how much of the drug to take and how often, as well as warnings about possible side effects. Read the label and learn whether you should take the drug with or without food, whether the drug will make you drowsy, and whether you can take it with other prescription or over-the-counter medicines. Protect yourself by taking prescription drugs only according to these instructions. That includes the dosage prescribed and the length of time. If you have a question about a drug that has been prescribed for you, you or your parents should contact your doctor.

If the drug is creating problems for you (e.g., if you experience unpleasant side effects or think you may be becoming addicted), consult with your doctor immediately. Do not make these decisions on your own — there can be risks to changing dosage or stopping a medication abruptly.

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SMU News & Communications, 214-768-7650, smunews@smu.edu