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What Are the 3 Prescription Drug Categories?

There’s a big challenge surrounding prescription drugs in Canada: how can prescription drug-related abuse be reduced while ensuring access to those who need it for medical applications?

Tightening regulations further could help prevent abuse and harm. But it could also mean jeopardizing the lives of people who medically need it if they don’t get timely access. It’s a tricky issue to resolve. 

In this blog, we’ll take a look at the three most commonly abused classifications of drugs in the prescription category, as well as treatment options for prescription drug addiction recovery

3 Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drug Categories 

Prescription drugs are medications issued by doctors to manage the health conditions of patients. Health Canada, through the Food and Drugs Act, is the body that ensures these medications are regulated for effectiveness and safety.

However, a lot of prescription drugs are intentionally misused or used without a prescription for non-medical reasons. Three of the most commonly abused prescription drug categories are:

  • Opioids; 
  • Stimulants; and
  • Central Nervous System (CNS) depressants.

1. Opioids

An opioid is a broad group of drugs primarily used to treat acute and chronic pain, cough, and diarrhea. This drug—which can be synthesized in a lab or made from poppy plantsmuffles your perception of pain and produces a feeling of euphoria and pleasure.

Some of the most commonly prescribed opioids are:

  • Morphine
  • Codeine
  • Oxycodone
  • Fentanyl
  • Medical heroine
  • Hydromorphone

These can come in various forms: capsules, tablets, syrups, injectable liquids, suppositories, skin patches, and nasal sprays.

How Opioids Affect the Body

When used, opioids can have these short-term side effects:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Impotence in men
  • Euphoria

Its long-term side effects include:

  • Liver damage
  • Increased tolerance
  • Infertility in women
  • Opioid-induced hyperalgesia
  • Dependence

In low doses, opioids can make you feel sleepy. A higher amount can slow down your breathing and heart rate, which can lead to death. 

Even when prescribed, opioids have serious side effects. This is why it’s crucial to take opioids exactly as prescribed by your doctor.

Opioid Abuse

The feeling of euphoria that comes after taking opioids can make a person want to continue experiencing it. It’s what makes opioids so addictive.

Currently, an opioid crisis is growing in Canada. Feelings of isolation, anxiety and stress due to COVID-19 may have contributed to the worsening opioid overdose crisis. The number of overdoses and deaths involving opioids says it all:

Between April and June 2021 alone, there were 1,720 reported opioid toxicity deaths. That’s approximately 19 deaths per day. 

Most of these deaths were males between the ages of 20 to 49 years old. The majority of the deaths occurred in British Columbia and Alberta. But overall, an increase in cases was observed in other regions as well, like Yukon and Ontario.

2. Stimulants

Stimulants are drugs that excite and speed up the brain. They increase attention, alertness, and wakefulness. 

Medical conditions like narcolepsy and ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are often treated using these drugs. Some of the most commonly prescribed stimulants are:

Effects of Stimulants on the Body

Taking stimulants usually causes these short-term side effects:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Euphoria
  • Headaches
  • Decreased appetite
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Elevated breathing rate

Long term effects of stimulants include behaviour changes such as:

The long-term use of stimulants can also lead to hypertension, psychotic episodes, risk of seizures, and heart attack. Once a person is physically dependent, and the dose is lowered or stopped, withdrawal symptoms like agitation and depression may be experienced.

Abuse of Stimulants

The increased focus and boost in energy are the reasons why stimulants are improperly used. Certain groups like athletes, performers, and high school and college students may be more likely to misuse this drug to boost performance. 

In Ontario, the problematic use of stimulants has been on the rise. There were 142 stimulant-related deaths reported in 2012. In 2017, the number rose to 587 deaths.

Sixty-five percent of the reported stimulant-toxicity deaths from January to June 2021 involved cocaine, while 50% involved methamphetamines

3. CNS Depressants or Sedatives

Another one of the most commonly abused prescription drug categories is CNS Depressants.

These are drugs used to treat panic attacks, sleep disorders, anxiety, and tension. It slows down brain activity which gives a calming effect.

Some of the most commonly-prescribed sedatives include:

A table showing common CNS depressants, including their drug class, generic name, trade name, and street name.

How CNS Depressants Affect the Body

Taking sedatives has these short-term side effects:

  • Slurred speech
  • Loss of motor coordination
  • Fatigue
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Disorientation

Long-term effects include:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • Liver damage
  • Poor concentration
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Impaired judgment
  • Mood swings
  • Breathing problems

Abuse of Sedatives

Most sedatives are only prescribed for short-term use to treat anxiety and insomnia. Otherwise, it can result in dependence and addiction. 

In 2019, 3.3 million Canadians aged 15 and above were reported to have used sedatives. Out of that number, 3% used it to get high. 

Some use sedatives with opioids and other prescription drugs (also known as polypharmacy) resulting in respiratory depression, profound sedation, coma, and even death.

Two people holding each other’s hands to provide emotional support

Understanding the Root Cause of Prescription Abuse

How can abuse of these three prescription drug categories be reduced while ensuring they are available to those who need it?

It’s an issue that can be solved using the five streams of action: prevention, education, treatment, monitoring & surveillance, and enforcement. It also needs coordinated intervention across different sectors.

At Freedom from Addiction, we understand there are emotional and psychological reasons for substance abuse. That’s why we aim to get to the root cause of the addiction through our science-based programs. 

If you want to know more about how we can help you or your loved one get support in treating prescription drug addiction, call us now or fill out our contact form.


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