Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

This information is available from PAD’s Parent & Community Handbook, 7th edition.

Young people have reported the non-medical use of prescription and over-the counter medicines for many years.  Prescription drugs include stimulants and tranquillizers/sedatives such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan.  Prescription pain relievers (used without a prescription) were the fourth most commonly used drug by Ontario students in 2011.


Prescription Pain Relievers (Opioids)

Of particular concern are the class of drugs known as “opioids” – the pain relievers like Percodan,  Percocet, Tylenol #3, codeine and Demerol that are available with a prescription.  The misuse of these drugs is a growing problem in Canada.  Youth report that they are using prescription pain killers for non-medical purposes.  The majority of them get them from home. One drug that has received increased attention is “OxyContin” which was the trademark name for a prescription time-released pain medication. The pill contains a large amount of its painkiller ingredient (oxycodone) and was effective to take when used as prescribed because it slowly released the active ingredient.   However when the pill was crushed or chewed all the ingredients were released at once and the effects were very harmful. While OxyContin itself has been replaced by the manufacturer with a safer, tamper resistant alternative (OxyNeo), a generic form of slow-release oxycodone has been produced and there are concerns about abuse of these products.


  • The person may feel a rush of intense pleasure (euphoria), similar to heroin
  • The respiratory system may be depressed resulting in breathing problems- a severe respiratory reaction can cause death
  • The person may experience constipation, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, dry mouth, sweating and weakness
  • Long term use can result in physical dependence and addiction



Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up the central nervous system and cause a boost of energy and alertness.  They can be used to lose weight or to keep someone awake.  Effects include feelings of restlessness, a sense of being powerful, anxiety and nervousness, and aggression. They increase the heart rate and blood pressure and can result in seizures and heart failure. 


ADHD Drugs 

ADHD drugs, also known as “study drugs” are stimulants prescribed for people (usually children and youth) with ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder).  These drugs include Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall and Dexedrine.  Used carefully for medical reasons, they can be effective in helping a child with ADHD focus better and control impulsive behaviour. They can, however, be misused as recreational drugs. Users can swallow the drug or crush it and snort it. It can cause euphoria, wakefulness and suppress a person’s appetite.


Over-the-Counter Cough and Cold Medication

A common ingredient in many cough and cold medicines available without a prescription is DXM or dextromethorphan, used as a cough suppressant.  However, about 7% of students report using large doses of these medications to get high.    High doses can cause hallucinations and feelings of being dissociated and lead to irrational and dangerous behaviour.  As well, there is a risk of liver damage, heart attack and strokes.

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