Updated: Mar 25, 2019
The term narcotics covers a broad spectrum of substances that affect mood or behavior. They include both naturally occurring opioids and opiates, such as opium, morphine, and heroin, as well as those synthetically produced, such as Oxycontin and its generic, oxycodone, hydrocodone, Demerol, Percodan, or any number of branded or generic pharmaceuticals. These narcotics can be used to produce a euphoric effect, but they are often used to relieve pain. When a narcotic is used to get high, this can be viewed as a bad use. But when a narcotic is used to relieve pain, this can be viewed as a good use.
The balance between good and bad in relation to these substances is razor thin.
Painkillers are not the only good medication that can turn, decidedly, bad. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “Some medications have psychoactive (mind-altering) properties and, because of that, are sometimes abused—that is, taken for reasons or in ways or amounts not intended by a doctor, or taken by someone other than the person for whom they are prescribed. In fact, prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs are, after marijuana (and alcohol), the most commonly abused substances by Americans 14 and older.” NIDA includes opioids under commonly abused drugs but also lists categories such as central nervous system depressants (like Valium or Xanax); stimulants (dextroamphetamines and amphetamines, along with methylphenidates like Ritalin or Concerta); and sedatives (barbiturates) and tranquilizers.
Having a prescription written by a doctor does not protect someone from abusing such medication, especially when they don’t follow the physician’s medication orders. A Stanford University study showed that “over 60 percent of Americans don’t follow doctors’ orders in taking prescription meds.”
How could researchers know this? They used seventy-six thousand urine samples taken from doctors’ offices and cross-referenced whether each sample reflected the appropriate amount of medication. Sixty-three percent of people “strayed from their doctor’s orders.” About a quarter of those studied did not take their prescribed medications at all, because they didn’t want to, couldn’t afford them, or unfortunately, were selling them to others. Overall, almost 40 percent were taking types and amounts not specifically prescribed for them by their physician.
Good drugs—and not just prescribed medications—can become harmful for a variety of reasons. I’ve also seen misuse occur in OTC medication. For example, I’ve run across people, without colds, who buy OTC cold medicine to use as a sedative or to get high through either dextromethorphan or simply the alcohol content. I’ve seen people who are addicted to diet pills or laxatives. Even motion sickness medication, such as Dramamine or Benadryl, can be used to produce a high. In fact, some stores have begun to pull these products from their general shelves and place them within the control of store personnel or back behind the pharmacy counter.
What about you? Are you taking prescription or OTC medication incorrectly? If so, for what purpose? And have you told your prescribing physician, or are you keeping your use a secret?
I’ve seen how the human capacity for invention, coupled with the human capacity for denial, can turn even good things into harmful ones. Avoidance is a trick of addiction, so you should intentionally counter it wherever it appears.
If you or someone you know suffers from addiction, it is beneficial to understand the causes of these conditions. Contact The Center • A Place of HOPE today at 1-888-771-5166, or fill out this form, and begin the healing process.
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 39 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.
 “Prescription Drugs and Cold Medicines,” National Institute on Drug Abuse, accessed December 5, 2017, https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/prescription -drugs-cold-medicines.
 “Prescription Drugs and Cold Medicines.”
 Lia Steakley, “Report Shows over 60 Percent of Americans Don’t Follow Doc- tors’ Orders in Taking Prescription Meds,” Stanford Medicine, April 25, 2012, http:// scopeblog.stanf ord.edu/2012/04/25/report-shows-over-60-percent-of -americans-d ont-f ollow-doctors-orders-in-taking-prescription-meds/.
 Steakley, “Report Shows over 60 Percent of Americans.”