Prescription & Over-the-Counter Medications

Prescription and Over-the-Counter (OTC) medications have become the third most misused substances on college campuses nationwide, following alcohol and marijuana. Misuse of these substances include:

  • Using in greater quantities or more frequently than prescribed or directed,
  • Taking another person's prescription,
  • Altering the medicine's delivery (e.g. crushing and snorting or eating a pill),
  • Using in conjunction with alcohol or other drugs,
  • Taking a medication in order to get high.

What are common prescription medicines that are misused?

Commonly misused prescription medications include pain killers (e.g. Vicodin, Percocet, Demoral, etc.), opiates (e.g. Oxycontin, Morphine, etc.), benzodiazepines/anti-anxiety/sedatives (e.g. Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, etc.), anti-depressants (e.g. Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, etc.), sleeping pills (e.g. Ambien, Lunesta, etc.), and study drugs (e.g. Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, etc.).

What are common OTC medicines that are misused?

Commonly misused OTC medications include cold medicines (e.g. any drug with dextromethorphan-DXM or Sudafed/pseudophedrine, etc.), diet pills and other stimulants (No-Doz, any drug with ephedrine, etc.), sleep aids (Tylenol PM, Unisom, etc.), and pain killers (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.).

To learn more about individual classes of drugs, symptoms of misuse, and possible interactions with other substances, click on the substance name above.

What are ways to avoid negative consequences of these drugs?

If you take a prescription medication: always consult your health care provider or pharmacist before using OTC drugs, alcohol, or other prescription drugs to avoid adverse reactions; don't advertise which medications you take, as some people may want to try or use your medication; keep your medications somewhere others can't access them.

If you take an OTC medication: always follow the dosage instructions listed on the packaging; consult a pharmacist or doctor about possible interactions with other medications (prescription or not); use caution when combining with alcohol as many OTC medications have negative reactions with alcohol (though they may not be prominently noted).


Please note: OPEN is in no way discouraging individuals who are prescribed or instructed to take any of these medications by a health professional from using them-we have no opinion on prescription or over-the-counter medications that are taken as directed. We are providing information on how these drugs are misused and ways to avoid negative consequences for those who are not taking these medicines for their intended purposes.


Did you know?

The phrase 'quitting cold turkey' originally comes from the cold flashes and goose bumps people experience while withdrawing from opiates.


For more information and the reference list, check out out prescription drug brochure.