The health risks of misusing prescription drugs are very serious yet widely misunderstood.

Many believe prescription drugs are a safe alternative to illicit street drugs, when in fact more emergency department visits occur due to prescription drug abuse than due to illicit “street” drugs (SAMHSA).


These beliefs regarding prescription medication abuse among college students stem from the misconception that prescription medications are not addictive. Some students also believe that there are no legal ramifications regarding prescription medications because they are legally prescribed by a doctor. Because prescription medications are seen as safer, many think that there is nothing wrong with using someone else’s prescription and that these medications cannot lead to overdose.

Mixing prescription medications with alcoholic beverages significantly increases the risk and severity of possible physical and mental harm, and may lead to overdose or death.

Though there are many types of prescription drugs, the most commonly misused fall into four categories: stimulants, painkillers, sleep medications and sedatives. Each of these categories present dangerous health risks, but education on the dangers of misusing these drugs can help keep students safe.

The chart below provides examples of these drugs, their effects, and other associated risks/dangers. The possession of any of these medications without a prescription could result in legal consequences and can negatively affect your academic and professional career.


Health Risks Other Consequences
Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, Concerta
High fever, convulsions, anxiety, hostility, nervousness, seizures, increased heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure Stimulants put excessive strain on the heart which can lead to heart failure and death
Pain Relievers
Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycotin
Liver damage, intoxication, decreased mental alertness and concentration, nausea, vomiting, confusion, decreased concentration and decreased pain threshold Regular or long term misuse can lead to physical dependence and in some cases addiction
Sleep Medications
Ambien, Sonata, Lunesta, Rozerem
Lowered blood pressure, increased risk of respiratory distress and death when combined with alcohol Combining sleep medications with alcohol is especially dangerous and can lead to death
Valium, Xanax, Ambien
Loss of coordination, slowed reflexes, respiratory depression, aggressive behavior, hallucinations, inability to form memories while taking Sudden withdrawal can cause convulsions and delirium

Legal Risks

There are many prevailing misconceptions about the safety and legality of misusing prescription drugs. Not only do many believe these drugs are safer than street drugs, but many do not know the serious legal ramifications of using these drugs without a prescription.

  1. In Missouri, illegal possession of prescription drugs is a class C felony and punishable by up to 7 years in prison.
  2. All prescription drugs must be kept in the original prescription container. If you do not keep them in the original container, the burden is on you to prove you have a legal prescription.
  3. Fraudulently attempting to obtain a controlled substance is a class D felony and punishable by up to 4 years in prison. This includes providing false information to obtain a prescription, claiming to be a physician or authorized person, and forging prescriptions or drug labels.
  4. It is illegal to distribute prescription drugs to anyone. This includes giving drugs to a friend. In addition, it is a class A felony to distribute a controlled substance within 2,000 feet of any school. A class A felony is punishable by 10-30 years in prison. Missouri colleges and universities are included in the law.
  5. Driving under the influence of prescription drugs could lead to a DWI arrest if the drug impairs your ability to drive safely. Mixing prescription drugs with alcohol or other substances can also lead to arrest.

Need help now?

drug phone   National Drug Abuse Hotline: 1-800-943-0566
rx phone   Prescription Drug Abuse Hotline: 1-888-939-3612

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