Misusing prescription drugs

As Bo Burnham says in Inside (streaming now on Netflix) , the internet gives us “A little bit of everything, all of the time” and prescription drugs are no exception. While the convenience of having your medicine available at the click of a button is awesome, it can quickly become something problematic. The misuse of prescription drugs is on the rise, and we want to talk about it.

A young woman is sitting at a desk. She is looking up prescription drugs on her computer. Her head is turned to the side. This is a wide-angle image.

Before we get to misusing prescription drugs, what are pharmaceuticals? 

Pharmaceuticals are prescription or OTC manufactured drugs. People mostly use pharms for their intended purpose. Long-term use of prescription drugs can be beneficial for helping to treat pain. But if the wrong person gets their hands on it, it can lead to prescription drug addiction. That’s why it’s key to have an honest conversation with your GP about the exact medicines you need.

Prescription drug abuse usually includes drugs like sleeping tablets, impotence treatments and treatments for mental disorders. But people are very resourceful at finding different uses for drugs on the market. 


More and more kids are misusing the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder drug Ritalin (methylphenidate). It’s actually called ‘kiddie coke’ because if you abuse it, the effects are similar to cocaine or amphetamine. Some kids who get Ritalin on prescription even peddle it for 50p to £1 per tablet.

Side-effects of Valium include sleeplessness, anxiety and paranoia. Even with all that, there’s still an increase in the popularity of the drug.  Students use it to fuel ‘all night cramming sessions’.

With any drug that keeps you ‘up’ there is always a down, and feeling the need to avoid the crash is why people use it.


In the 60s, people nicknamed Valium ‘mother’s little helper’. This is because it was widely prescribed to housewives who commonly misused it. Valium is part of the drug group benzodiazepine. People use ‘Benzos’ to come down from drugs such as ecstasy or speed (amphetamine). 

Tranquillisers (inclusing Valium) have a depressant effect. They can induce calmness, relaxation and soothe emotional pain. But, they are also ‘numbing’. This means that they are dangerous when taken with alcohol. In fact, the combined depressant effects can easily cause fatal overdose.

 Benzodiazepines can also cause a lowering of inhibitions, especially when mixed with booze. Although some people just want to get wasted, it can lead to really bad behaviour. This includes committing violence or having unsafe sex.

Barbiturates are Benzos’ dangerous cousins– it’s easy to take a lethal overdose. They are hypnosedatives (sleeping tablets with a hypnotic effect). Drugscope   describes them as ‘one of the most dangerous drugs misused in Britain’. They are prescribed less nowadays; mainly because the fatal dose is so close to the normal dose.

Misusing prescription drugs: Painkillers & other ‘pharms’ 

Mild Painkillers: There are many types of prescription painkillers or analgesics on the market. Heroin addicts commonly use painkillers such as DF118s. They can help to wean you off the drug and ease withdrawal signs and symptoms.

Opioids: They are reportedly “50 times stronger than heroin and 80 times more powerful than morphine”. Patients suffering from chronic pain administer them through patches. Illegal users, on the other hand, have been opening the patches and sucking the drug out to get more intense effects.

Strong painkillers: These include fentanyl and are very addictive. People who use them medically have to withdraw very slowly when treatment stops. Side-effects can be unpredictable and dangerous. Unfortunately, this method doesn’t always work and can lead to prescription drug addiction. 

Steroids: Athletes commonly abuse steroids to build muscle. The side-effects include excessive aggression due to hormone imbalance. They are also linked with cardiovascular disease as well as reduced fertility. You can click here to find out more about them.

Is misusing prescription drugs illegal? 

It’s difficult to say how many kids are misusing prescription drugs. Most young people don’t go to drug treatment, and if they do – it’s not recorded in the same way.

If you are using pharms, it’s worth understanding the law. Medicines and drugs are controlled under either the Medicines Act 1968 or the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, or both. Some pharms, like Viagra and Ketamine, are restricted under 1971 . Others like anabolic steroids are covered by both the Acts. Regardless of the law, prescription drug abuse is drug abuse. So, be careful about what you’re putting in your body.

To get more information about the legal status of pharmaceutical drugs, access a drugs information service such as Release.

Next Steps

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By Andrea Wren

Updated on 20-Aug-2021