When used appropriately, as prescribed, pharmaceutical drugs are indispensable in relieving a wide variety of medical conditions. But they can be extremely dangerous if misused, and under certain circumstances they can be deadly. Particularly in western countries, the reports of increasing misuse of prescription drugs in some segments of the population - older adults, adolescents, and women - are of concern both because of their numbers and because those numbers appear to be increasing rapidly.
The the effects of prescription drug addiction vary according to the drug used, but the very nature of addiction means that it interferes with daily life and, therefore, has an impact on the home, family and workplace. The problem has to do both with the development of addiction itself and an array of medical consequences that are different for of the substances themselves. One of the most common problems is that patients often do not understand that certain medications are to be used on a short term basis, not a long-term basis. Addiction can arise as a consequence. Especially in the case of strong analgesics for managing chronic pain or sedatives for sleeping, some decide they can make money by selling their medication on the street or using it in other ways than prescribed. Abusers also try to dupe pharmacists by 'doctor shopping' for multiple prescribers for medications they want for nonmedical use.
In the USA, an estimated 4 million people aged 12 and older used prescription drugs (sedatives, stimulants, tranquillizers or opioid painkillers) for nonmedical reasons in 1999; nearly half said it was their first time. Research suggests that more than 17% of adults over 60 may be affected by prescription drug abuse. Senior citizens use prescription medications three times as frequently as the general population and have been found to have the poorest rates of compliance with directions for taking a medication. The most dramatic increase in new users of prescription drugs is young people between the ages of 12-25 years old. A 1999 survey found 12-14 year olds named painkillers, sedatives and stimulants as some of their most frequently used drugs.
While men and women tend to abuse prescription drugs in equal numbers, women may be more likely to abuse narcotics and anti-anxiety drugs--in part because they are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression.
It was estimated in 1994 that some five million Americans and half a million Britons (11 million worldwide) have used the "new-style" anti-depressant drug Prozac. It is thought that one million people are addicted to tranquillisers in the UK.