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The Social and Historical Aspect on Prescription Drug Abuse in Young Adults in The U.s.

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The war on drugs has made multiple attempts on reducing the consumption of illegal drugs and abuses since the 1970s. Whether that is from laws or strict requirements, there has been an uprise in pharmaceutical abuse and dependency in young adults in the United States. This, as a result, has caused a history of failures and epidemics with scientific research proving furthermore the consequences of these activities.


The beginning of the campaign “War on Drugs” was initiated by President Nixon in June 1971. In a timeline from the History Media Company cites that Nixon stated drug abuse is “public enemy number one”. But before the war on drugs took initiative, there were previous acts to prescription drugs like the Control Substance Act. David Musto M.D, an American expert on U.S. drug policy and the War on Drugs, studies the prehistoric/roots of pharmaceutical drugs (opioids) to further understand drug abuse. He clarifies around the 1800s a German Scientist named Levinstein found out the reasoning behind the addiction of opioids by extracting certain compounds that caused that addiction. And it was not until 1970 when President Nixon signed the Control Substance Act which called for regulations of certain drugs according to the War on Drugs timeline from History Media Company. However, an article from the Journal of Adolescent Health, conducted a second-hand analysis on National Survey on Drug Use and Health which the researchers acknowledge the Control Substance Act of 1970 and to list certain opioids that fell into those different classifications under the act to seek the trends which included: Vicodin, Lortab, oxycodone, hydromorphone, meperidine, etc. 

However, the problem with this is that most of these compounds can be found in opioids which could be over the counter or easily accessible as mentioned by the Mayo Clinic who are physicians, scientists and other medical experts who dedicate a portion of their clinical time to the site to provide a unique position/information. The clinic states “Prescription drug abuse or problematic use includes everything from taking a friend’s prescription painkiller for your backache to snorting or injecting ground-up pills to get high” (Mayo Clinic). The result leads to a 2017 report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse where they seek out the scope of misuse of prescription drugs where “an estimated 18 million people (more than 6 percent of those aged 12 and older) have misused such medications at least once in the past year”. The statistics and information given by the NIH suggest different factors under that scope that may contribute to those statistics like age, gender, ease of access, etc. However, the factor that stands out the most is misinformation on the addictive properties of these opioids, believing to be less harmful than illegal drugs. To better explain this, from a pharmacological view, prescription drugs fit into the same drug classes as the usual illegal drugs. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, claims that “the same general pharmacological factors associated with abuse and addiction to non-prescription drugs apply to prescription drug abuse” and key factors that would influence these actions of opioid misuse would be dose, route of administration, co-administration with other drugs, context, and expectation. As said from the study “Misuse of Prescription drugs”, state the belief or expectation/context from Wilson M. Compton from “Abuse of prescription drugs and the risk of addiction” that opioids are safer than illegal drugs which in the pharmacological view refutes on. This can further prove the view of young adults believing pharmaceuticals are safer with a timeline supplied by the FDA (which deals with drug administration) that states under the 2000-2004 section that “by 2009, about 1.2 million emergency department visits were related to misuse or abuse of pharmaceuticals, an increase of more than 98% since 2004 and more than the number of ED visits related to use of illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine” (FDA). These symptoms may be from the cause of young adults and their possible belief of pharmaceuticals being safer than illegal drugs.

Scientific perspective 

The misuse of pharmaceutical drugs can also lead to mental and physical effects on the body due to the effects it has on the brain. The U.S Department of Health and Human Services developed an informative text to provide evidence/statistics on opioid misuse in adolescents and prevention. In 2016, 3.6 percent of adolescents ages 12-17 reported misusing opioids over the past year. This percentage is twice as high among older adolescents and young adults ages 18-25 (Opioids and Adolescents). In an article by NIDA, there is an easy-to-read text which goes over the development/scientific on drugs to people by acknowledging the epidemic of abuse. They present possible reasons for the numbers that may correlate to the U.S Department of Health which include “to feel good” or “to do better” whether it’s from stress, work, or for the feeling of euphoria. The addictiveness of prescription drugs allows those reasons to take a toll on people. With the collaboration of the U.S Health Department and NIDA, a research report was developed on prescription drug abuse as a whole and its scientific effects. The results were that opioids can be legal or illegal like heroin. And this is only a problem when hardcore drugs fall under the same category as legal drugs. For example, drugs like heroin which “share similar chemical structures and bind to the same receptors in the brain” are present legal drugs. But for one to understand why this is problematic, one must know the process/effect on the brain/body. 

Opioids can include drugs such as OxyContin and Vicodin. NIDA (a major component in NIH) explains the scientific process of opioids to the brain/body. These opioids attach to specific proteins called “opioid receptors”, which are found on nerve cells in the brain, spinal cord, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs in the body. NIDA states “When these drugs attach to their receptors, they reduce the perception of pain and can produce senses such as well-being or drowsiness”. Further symptoms from the reaction described from America’s Addiction to Opioids would be from a chart by the Center Of Addiction which sources from NIH to state the side effects of the commonly misused prescription drugs. As a result, it states under OxyContin and other pain-relieving drugs, that they are “typically chewed, swallowed, snorted, and injected to obtain the sensation of muscle relaxation, twice as potent analgesic as morphine”. But the side effects are dangerous as the Center Of Addiction states the health risks may include “Slowed or arrested breathing, lowered pulse and blood pressure, tolerance, addiction, unconsciousness, coma, death; risk of death increased when combined with alcohol or other central nervous system depressants”. And for oxycontin specifically, risks misuse can be obtained from its addictiveness since it shares the same chemical structure as heroin as stated earlier in the Research Series.


There is a historical and scientific perspective on the misuse of pharmaceutical drugs in young adults from the United States. Pharmaceutical drug misuse started long before with the upcoming creation of prescription drugs and people discovering the addictiveness of these opioids. With further investigation, research showed the reasoning behind the addictiveness behind these drugs and the process in which they affect the brain and body. Pharmaceutical drug misuse in young adults has been on the rise in the United States. 

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