Prescription Drug Misuse

What is Prescription Drug Misuse?

Prescription drug misuse is the intentional or unintentional use of medication without a prescription, in a way other than prescribed or for the feeling it induces upon use (i.e. “getting high”). The most commonly misused prescription drugs include pain medication (opioids), stimulants and sedatives (i.e. antidepressants). 

Prescription drug misuse includes: 

  1. Taking more of a prescription medication than that prescribed.
  2. Taking a prescription medication for a reason different than that prescribed.
  3. Sharing or taking someone else’s prescription medication.


Why is Prescription Drug Misuse Such a Big Deal?

Prescription medication can help us live longer and healthier lives when used as directed by a health professional, but danger ensues when medication is misused. Individuals put themselves at risk of an accidental drug overdose when they take medication not prescribed to them, mix certain medications with alcohol or overuse medications. According to the CDC, accidental drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

Unfortunately, there is a misconception that because prescription drugs are prescribed by a physician and dispensed by a pharmacist that they are safe to use. The misuse of prescription drugs is not only harmful to one’s health but it can result in legal consequences as well as social consequences. The misuse of medications can impact family, friends, academics, employment, and finances. 

How Can I Prevent Prescription Drug Misuse?

Prescription drug misuse is just as dangerous as using illegal drugs and do not provide a safe way to cope with stress or perform better academically or athletically. Misuse can be prevented by turning to positive coping strategies when facing stressful situations, such as exercising, journaling, or meeting with a counselor to talk through things. 

Did you know that misusing prescription drugs is not the norm at USD? According to the National College Health Assessment, 96.4% of USD students have not used prescription drugs that were not their own in the last 30 days. However, as a community, we should still be following these helpful guidelines to prevent misuse from affecting our campus. 

As a community we can prevent drug misuse at USD by following these helpful guidelines:

  • Mind your meds: Even if you trust your friends and roommates, residence halls and shared apartments are busy places and it might not be easy to keep track of who is coming and going if you have a lot of roommates. Some people are looking to find and steal prescription drugs, so treat them as you would your laptop, bike or other valuable personal property. (
  • Don’t share medication: Just because your doctor prescribed you medication doesn’t mean it’s safe for your friend to use. They may have a medical condition you are unaware of, be taking other medications or drinking excessively. Do you really want to put a friend in harm’s way? Not to mention, sharing or selling your prescription drugs is illegal. Remember, you have a bright future ahead of you so don’t let legal consequences get in the way!
  • Safely dispose of unused medication: Tossing your unused medication as is, in the trash is not a safe way to dispose it, especially when living in communal spaces. Visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website here to learn about safe options for drug disposal. 

For more information or consultation:

Student Wellness provides free consultations to students who have wellness concerns about themselves or a friend. The Center for Health and Wellness Promotion can support and guide you in helping yourself or a friend. Helping others and/or asking for help can be stressful and we want you to know that you are NOT alone. Call (619) 260-4618 to set up an appointment or visit their office in the University Center, Room 161.

Sources:,,, SAMHSA