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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Drugs

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Misuse of Prescription Pain Relievers: The Buzz Takes Your Breath Away . . . Permanently

Buzz takes your breath away banner

(PDF version - 99KB)

If you think you've heard it before, you're dead wrong.
How many times has someone told you a "party" drug could lead to more serious problems - like addiction, brain damage, or even death? You've probably heard it so many times, it's getting hard to believe. Especially when kids around you are smoking, drinking, and rolling. But all drugs have real potential for harm - even prescription pain relievers. When abused alone, or taken with other drugs, prescription pain medications can kill you. And the death toll from misuse and abuse is rising steadily. 

Think twice-because you only die once.buzz toe tag
Prescription pain relievers, when used correctly and under a doctor's supervision, are safe and effective. But abuse them, or mix them with illegal drugs or alcohol, and you could wind up in the morgue. Even using prescription pain relievers with other prescription drugs (such as antidepressants) or over-the-counter medications (like cough syrups and antihistamines), can lead to life-threatening respiratory failure. That's why people just like you are dropping pills at parties, and dropping dead. They're not downing handfuls of pills, either. With some prescription pain relievers, all it takes is one pill.

Drugs to watch out for.
The most dangerous prescription pain relievers are those containing drugs known as opioids, such as morphine and codeine. Some common drugs containing these substances include Darvon, Demerol, Dilaudid, OxyContin, Tylenol with Codeine, and Vicodin. Your friends probably call these drugs by their street names: ac/dc, coties, demmies, dillies, hillbilly heroin, o.c., oxy, oxycotton, percs and vics to name a few. Whatever you call them, remember one thing - they can be killers.

Symptoms of overdose.
If you, or any of your friends, have taken prescription pain relievers, here are the danger signs to watch for:

  • Slow breathing (less than ten breaths a minute is really serious trouble)
  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Confusion
  • Being tired, nodding off, or passing out
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Apathy (they don't care about anything)
  • Cold and clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

A lot of these symptoms can make people think your friend is drunk. And you may be tempted to let them sleep it off, or tell their parents they had too much to drink. But don't. Your friend could go to sleep and never wake up.

What you can do if a friend is overdosing.
Make an anonymous call to 911 or your friend's parents if you're too scared to identify yourself. Try to get your friend to respond to you by calling out his/her name. Make your friend wake up and talk to you. Shake him/her if you have to. Otherwise, your friend could suffer brain damage, fall into a coma, or die.

buzz girl w pillsAddiction can be a living death.
If you abuse prescription pain relievers and are lucky enough to cheat death, you're still in big trouble. Prescription pain relievers can be addictive. The longer you take them, the more your body needs. Try to stop, and you could experience withdrawal symptoms.

Addiction to prescription pain relievers is like being hooked on heroin and the withdrawal isn't much different: bone and muscle pain, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes and insomnia.

If you, or someone you know, is abusing or is addicted, get professional help. You'll find many resources listed here. You can also ask for help from parents, doctors, relatives, teachers, or school guidance counselors. Substance abuse ruins lives. Don't let it happen to your friends - or you.

If you, or someone you know, is hooked on prescription pain relievers, call the substance abuse treatment 24-hour helpline:

1.800.662.HELP

Or visit our web site at
Substance Abuse Treatment Facility Locator

If you need additional information, here are some places to start:

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

5600 Fishers Lane, Rockwall II
Rockville, MD 20857
301-443-5052

Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857-0001
1-888-INFO-FDA

National Institute on Drug Abuse
National Institutes of Health

6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 5213
Bethesda, MD 20892-9561
301-443-1124

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
P.O. Box 6000
Rockville, MD 20849-6000
1-800-666-3332

Prescription pain relievers, when used correctly and under a doctor's supervision, are safe and effective.

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Food and Drug Administration