Every Pill Has Two Sides: What You Need To Know About Adderall and Oxycontin Abuse

Photo: (Getty, MTV Act)

Photo: (Getty, MTV Act)

Prescription drugs can be vital for the health of those who need them, but the reason they’re prescription is that they’re not for everyone, and abusing them can lead to problems. Taking more than the doctor recommended — or taking prescriptions that aren’t prescribed to you — can lead to health risks and, in some cases, even accidental death.

+ Watch “Addy vs. Oxy.”

We wanted to learn more about prescription drug abuse, specifically Adderall and OxyContin, so mtvU sat down with college students, who shared their personal stories about prescription drug abuse – you can check out the videos on Half of Us’s site. Also, in a brave and powerful special, “Thrift Shop”  and “Same Love” singer, and Best Video With A Social Message VMA winner, Macklemore will also be sharing his story about his struggle with substance abuse with Half of Us in the next couple of weeks – stay tuned for more info on that!

In the meantime, MTV Act spoke to Dr. Victor Schwartz of the Jed Foundation about the like proper use of prescription drugs, and the specific dangers that can come from improper use. Dr. Schwartz also talks about what constitutes abuse, what the warning signs are, and how to get help or help a friend who might be struggling.

ACT: What is Adderall? Why might a person be prescribed it?

DR. SCHWARTZ: Adderall is the brand name of a mixed salt of amphetamines. It’s used for several different medical conditions, and the most common reason for being prescribed it is for ADD or ADHD. It can also be used in other conditions, such as narcolepsy, but those are very rare conditions.

+ Watch “Does Adderall Help You Study?”

ACT: What specifically are the possible side effects if someone uses Adderall more than prescribed (if they have a prescription) or uses it without a prescription? Why is it important to follow your doctor’s orders?

DR. SCHWARTZ: Stimulants have a number of side effects. They can make people who are prone to anxiety more anxious. They can even induce panic attacks in some people who are predisposed. When used in higher doses than prescribed, they can raise blood pressure significantly, increase pulse rate, and for some people who have underlining heart diseases of some kind, they could result in heart rhythm problems that can be dangerous. Higher doses used for a period of time can cause psychosis. Psychosis would mean that they cause a level of disorganization where a person really isn’t able to interpret reality. The person might have hallucinations or have fantastic beliefs that are called delusions.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s orders because if you take higher doses, you’re more likely to have episodes of depression if you try to lower the dose. Taking higher doses can cause insomnia and difficulty in thinking.

ACT: What is Oxycontin? Why might a person be prescribed it?

DR. SCHWARTZ: Oxycontin is the brand name of an opiate or narcotic. It’s typically used to treat severe, acute or some types of chronic pain. Narcotics (and opiates) are very good managers of severe pain — but they should not be used for mild pain, which can be managed with other medicines.

ACT: What specifically are the possible side effects if someone uses Oxy more than prescribed (if they have a prescription) or uses it without a prescription? Why is it important to follow your doctor’s orders?

DR. SCHWARTZ: One thing that’s useful to know is that even short term doses give side effects. They can make a person feel tired or “out of it.” A person who takes one of these and drives is at increased risk. There are physiological effects — they cause nausea, they cause constipation. They also cause a decrease in the usual rate of breathing and the depth of breathing, which is what the risk is in overdose. Taken in other than the prescribed manner, the sedative effect and the impact on decreasing respiration can actually lead a person to stop breathing. A person is so sedated they might be asleep when this happens. That’s the primary and serious danger, especially if a person takes these drugs with other drugs or with alcohol.

It’s important to follow your doctor’s orders because the risks of taking them in higher doses is significant and there’s also a significant risk of addiction. People can rapidly become addicted to narcotics or opiates and then it becomes difficult to stop taking them.

ACT: What are some stereotypes about Adderall and Oxycontin that just aren’t true?

DR. SCHWARTZ: Probably the biggest stereotype for Adderall is that they improve people’s academic functioning. There’s good evidence out there that when you look at students who are abusing Adderall, they have lower GPAs. There’s also good evidence that if someone who’s extremely tired takes Adderall, their performance doesn’t get much better, even if they’re more alert. People who come to depend on these drugs as a study aid don’t get the results they think they’re going to get.

The one misconception about opiates is that people who take them for pain can’t become addicted to them. That’s not so.

ACT: How can a person know if they might be abusing a substance?

DR. SCHWARTZ: The two indications that would suggest abuse would be either their function is being impaired by virtue of using the substance, or that they’re taking them in ways that are beyond what’s prescribed.

+ Watch “Can Adderall Hurt You?”

ACT: If a person is abusing a prescription drug, or knows someone who is, what help is available?

DR. SCHWARTZ: If they’re in school, they can turn to their school counseling system or their clinical care providers. If people are abusing regularly, then it’s very possible there’ll need to be an intervention to deal with addiction. But, in any case, it’s helpful to have an assessment by a professional.

If they’re not in school, they can see their primary physician. SAMHSA has a referral system in place that gives information about resources to treat both emotional health and drug and alcohol problems. Their website has a provider directory that can help you find resources in your community.

ACT: What are warning signs that there might be an issue? How can you help a friend?

DR. SCHWARTZ: Again, if a person really starts to feel as if they’re not able to function without a substance or is using dangerous substances or taking them in ways that are causing them danger (driving while “high”), that indicates there’s a serious problem. That suggests there’s trouble and things need to be addressed.

I think the best thing to do is be as clear and direct as you can. Tell your friend what you’ve noticed happening. It’s not enough to say, “I think you have a problem.” It’s more effective to say, “You’ve been missing school, you’ve been missing work, you haven’t slept in three days.” Give very specific examples that are leading to your concern and then offer to help your friend find resources, whether through their family, through school resources, through clergy. Whoever they feel comfortable turning to.


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Every Pill has Two Sides.

Every Pill has Two Sides.

Learn more about prescription drug abuse and how you can get help for yourself or a friend.

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