Prescription Drugs

The misuse of Prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicine by teenagers to get high remains a major source of concern in Canada

Over 300,000 Canadian kids have taken prescription medications NOT prescribed to them. 1

In other words, approximately 1 in 10 Canadian teenagers has admitted to taking prescription drugs (including painkillers, stimulants, and depressants) to get high, and 59% of them say they stole the pills from home. 2

1Source – PDFC estimate 2 Source - CAMH – Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey (2013 OSDUHS)


The statistics show a significant decline (2009 = 20%, 2011 = 17%,  2013 = 14%,  2015 = 12%) in the number of kids who admit to taking prescription drugs, which can be attributed in part to an increased public awareness of the problem of prescription drug misuse.

That said, thousands of teenagers continue to loot from medicine cabinets at home to get medications, most of which are opioid painkillers.

In many cases, the medicine cabinet at home has replaced the local drug pusher as the source of teenagers' drugs of choice.


Our last PSA Campaign tackles the issue of prescription drug abuse by youth in Canada. reminds parents to take back all unused or expired prescription medications to your local pharmacy.

PDFC's National Medicine Take Back Campaign

This initiative, created three years ago, is in partnership with Shopper's Drug Mart and Pharmaprix (in Québec) and Loblaws and Provigo pharmacies (in Québec).

The aim is to increase public awareness about the importance of taking back unused and expired medications for safe disposal by pharmacies.

The PDFC Medicine Take Back Campaign 3 year total:

1,201 tons of prescription and over the counter medicines.


That's the size of approximately 200 African elephants!

This medicine take back initiative has a positive impact on the environment and on our children's and teen's health by keeping prescription medications out of their reach.

Our National Drug Take Back Campaign returns in the summer of 2016!

Prescription Drugs: Why do people abuse them?

Here's a list of some of the most commonly abused prescription medications.

  • Opioids/ Painkillers


    Opioid drugs act by effectively changing the way a person experiences pain.

    Commonly referred to as painkillers, Opioids are drugs that contain opium or are derived from and imitate opium. They are prescribed for pain relief and are only available by prescription.
    Most opioid or painkilling drug prescriptions are non-refillable and, when used properly under a medical doctor’s supervision, are safe and effective.

    Morphine derivatives, or narcotics, come from opioids and are used to therapeutically treat pain, suppress coughing, alleviate diarrhea, and induce anesthesia. When using these narcotics, abusers experience a general sense of well-being by reduced tension, anxiety, and aggression.

    Although painkillers have different potencies and are taken in different ways, when they are abused they all pose a risk for addiction and other serious effects.


    Examples of Opioid Painkillers
    Street or Slang Terms for Painkillers

    Opioid painkillers are the prescription drugs most commonly abused by teens
    Signs and Symptoms of Painkiller Abuse
    Potentially dangerous Drug Interactions
    Signs of Opioid Overdose

    Our Get Help section offers links to a variety of resources to help you and your family find the right kind of help for opioid dependency or addiction.




    Fentanyl is a highly potent drug that many recreational drug users take unknowingly, putting them at high risk of an overdose leading to death.

    Fentanyl is 40 times more powerful than Heroin and 50 to 100 times potent than morphine
    Deaths involving Fentanyl


    street fentanyl

    Fentanyl on the Street
    Signs of Fentanyl overdose

    Our Get Help section offers links to a variety of resources to help you and your family find the right kind of help for fentanyl abuse.


  • Sedatives/Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants


    Prescription sedatives are central nervous system (CNS)depressants, meaning that they depress or slow down the body’s functions.

    These medications are mainly used to relieve anxiety and assist with sleep problems. Other medical uses include inducing sedation for surgical and other medical procedures, treatment of alcohol withdrawal, seizure control and relaxation of skeletal muscles.

    Often referred to as sedatives and tranquilizers, CNS depressants are substances that can slow normal brain function. Most CNS depressants reduce brain function through a neurotransmitter called gammaaminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that enables communication between brain cells.

    brain18996499_M_0 (1)

    Prescription sedatives and CNS depressants are usually taken in pill form; however, some are available as suppositories or prepared as a solution for injection.

    Sedatives are often prescribed by doctors to treat a variety of health conditions including anxiety and panic attacks, tension, acute stress reactions and sleep disorders. When given in high doses, sedatives may act as anesthesia. Sedatives have the potential for abuse and should be used only as prescribed.

    Examples of Depressants
    Street or Slang Terms for Sedatives


    Abuse of Sedatives
    Are Teens Abusing Sedatives?
    Signs and Symptoms of Sedative Abuse
    Withdrawal from Sedatives
    Potentially dangerous Drug and Alcohol interactions with Sedatives
    Signs of Sedative overdose

    Our Get Help section offers links to a variety of resources to help you and your family find the right kind of help for sedative dependency or addiction.


  • Stimulants


    Stimulants are a broad category of substances that act to increase the level of activity of the central nervous system. Stimulants increase alertness, attention, and energy, as well as elevate blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.


    The category includes commonly used substances such as caffeine and nicotine, over-the-counter decongestants, (e.g., pseudoephedrines like Sudafed TM), illegal drugs (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine), and prescription medications.

    The most common use of prescription stimulants is to treat individuals diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Prescription stimulants are also prescribed by doctors to treat conditions such as asthma, respiratory problems, obesity, and the treatment of narcolepsy and other sleep disorders.

    Examples of Stimulants
    Street or Slang Terms for Stimulants

    pills and hands(1)

    Stimulant Abuse by teens
    Signs and Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse
    Withdrawal from Stimulants
    Potentially dangerous Drug and Alcohol Interactions with Stimulants
    Signs of Stimulant overdose

    Our Get Help section offers links to a variety of resources to help you and your family find the right kind of help for sedative or depressant dependency or addiction.