Most Abused Prescription Drugs in California

A lot of people in California rely on prescription drugs to get through their days without fully realizing that the risk of becoming addicted to them is high. Some even abuse these with full awareness of the downward spiral they could lead to. It’s just that, in their minds, the temporary relief this type of […]

A lot of people in California rely on prescription drugs to get through their days without fully realizing that the risk of becoming addicted to them is high. Some even abuse these with full awareness of the downward spiral they could lead to. It’s just that, in their minds, the temporary relief this type of medication provides is worth the pain of addiction. But is it really? Absolutely not! Although, that doesn’t help the current prescription drug epidemic subside.

So, what are the most abused prescription drugs — the ones to blame for this issue? How can you spot abuse? But also, are there any addiction rehab centers near California that can provide support should you or your loved one ever succumb to the ”allure” of prescription drugs? Allow us to answer these questions and then some!

Prescription drug abuse statistics

The U.S. has been dealing with the prescription drug abuse epidemic for some time now, and prescription drug abuse statistics from 2022, notably those extracted from a survey conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, seem to confirm this. What this survey suggests is that around 397,000 adults (aged 26 or older) are misusing prescribed stimulants in some way or another. For the most part, this refers to the misuse of medication used to treat conditions such as ADHD.

It’s also important to mention that, within the same age group, a problem with using prescribed tranquilizers also exists. To paint a better picture, a total of 522,000 adults are reportedly missing these, which are commonly used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders.

An illustration of the person taking most abused prescription drugs in California next to the title of the article
As per data, stimulants are among the most abused prescription drugs in California.

If we take a look at people aged 12 or older, we can notice that about 1.5% of them (4.3 million) misuse stimulants. As for tranquilizers, the situation is worse, with 1.7% (4.8 million) people not taking them as prescribed.

Prescription drug use in California

The national prescription drug abuse numbers are horrifying. But how does California fare compared to the U.S.? Based on California Health Care Foundation data from 2018-2019, it’s been estimated that 3.4% of people, 26 or older, were misusing pain medication.

Perhaps that isn’t enough to scare us—but what about a sharp incline in drug poisoning deaths in 2018? A total of 5,348 lives were lost (although some believe there are a lot more unreported cases). This is a significantly higher figure compared to the 2,975 deaths from overdose reported back in 2002 and may suggest we are dealing with a trend of sorts.

Commonly abused prescription drugs in California

Although we don’t have the most abused prescription drugs 2023 statistics, and neither do we have the most abused prescription drugs 2022 statistics (at least not for California), we do know that several types of medications are considered ”high-risk”. There’s no single reason why these are being misused. But what is true and always will be is that, no matter the type of drug you or your loved one may be dependent on, attending a licensed prescription drug rehab California center is the best way to kick off the addiction.

As for the prescription drugs most commonly abused, we have:

  1. Opioids
  2. Benzodiazepines
  3. Barbiturates
  4. Amphetamines

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Opioids (e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone, Percocet) pose a significant danger of addiction and overdose despite their potent pain-relieving properties. Respiratory depression, a serious medical condition in which breathing becomes abnormally shallow or ceases altogether, can develop as a result of their misuse. Also, due to the substantial risk of dependence, many find it challenging to discontinue taking opioids without medical supervision. One research also implies that 80,411 lives were lost due to opioid overdose in roughly one year, which only emphasizes the need for urgent action.

The difference between popular abused prescription drugs: Oxycodone and hydrocodone

Is there any difference between oxycodone and hydrocodone, really, or are we talking about two drugs that are virtually the same? Let’s compare them, shall we?

  • Both are prescribed for managing moderate to severe pain (oxycodone is often used for slightly stronger pain relief).
  • Oxycodone is a single-ingredient medication. On the other hand, hydrocodone is combined with other pain relievers (for example, acetaminophen).
  • Both medications can cause side effects in the likes of drowsiness, nausea, and constipation. The risk of addiction and overdose is high with both, too.
  • Hydrocodone is more commonly prescribed in the U.S., partly because it’s considered slightly less addictive.


Now that you understand how different (but also similar) oxycodone and hydrocodone are, you could be wondering how long does Percocet stay in your system? Truth be told, the definitive answer depends on several factors, such as dosage, metabolism, and frequency of use. Still, it pays to know that:

  • Percocet remains in the blood for up to 24 hours after usage.
  • It is detectable in urine for two to four days.
  • The drug remains observable in saliva samples for up to four days.
  • It remains present in hair follicles the longest (up to 90 days).
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You have probably heard of Valium and Xanax, courtesy of pop culture. We are talking about some of the most popular abused prescription drugs, which are actually used to treat anxiety and various sleep disorders. When used as instructed, they are super effective. But if used irresponsibly, their addictive potential tends to creep up.

As people start taking higher doses, they find they need more and more to get the same effect out of these drugs. And thus, a physical dependence develops. Quitting on these cold turkey isn’t recommended, as it can lead to life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, with seizures being just a part of the issue.


Doctors refrain from giving their patients barbiturates simply because it’s hard to draw a clear line between a dose that provides therapeutic benefits and one that’s toxic. They are, however, used occasionally to treat certain medical conditions. Barbiturates are especially dangerous if misused and can quickly lead to overdose, which, sadly, often results in coma or even death. In terms of withdrawal, it’s as severe as when getting off of benzodiazepines, if not even more!


People suffering from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder are prescribed amphetamines to treat their condition. This typically includes Adderall and Ritalin. Their widely accepted use lies in their ability to improve focus and energy. But it’s this ability that’s also brought them the title of some of the most abused prescription drugs.

If taken more often and in higher doses than intended (especially for long periods on end), amphetamines can cause anything from serious cardiovascular problems (high blood pressure, heart attacks) to co-occurring mental health issues, like anxiety, psychosis, and paranoia.

A person putting one of the most abused prescription drugs in their hand
Most abused prescription drugs in California are usually easily accessible.

The reasons behind the popularity of frequently abused prescription drugs

Let’s explore the reasons behind frequently abused prescription drugs in California. They include:

  1. Ease of access
  2. Lack of awareness
  3. Pain management
  4. Mental health issues
  5. Peer pressure

Ease of access

Prescription drugs are often easy to get a hold of, making them much easier to misuse. Many people obtain these medications through prescription or tend to ”borrow” their family members’ leftovers.

Lack of awareness

People often underestimate the risk of addiction or the harmful effects prescription drugs can have when not used as intended. Also, the idea that they are safer than illicit drugs is misleading. The truth is that prescription drugs can be just as addictive and dangerous when not used properly. Yes, they can lead to serious health issues, addiction, or even overdose, just like their illicit counterparts.

Pain management

Many individuals start using prescription drugs due to legitimate reasons, say, for managing chronic pain. Still, reliance on these can sometimes lead to abuse, with people beginning to take higher doses or use the medication more frequently to achieve the desired effects.

A person going through depression, which can leads to seeking most abused prescription drugs
The most abused prescription drugs do not alleviate symptoms of mental disorders if not used as they are intended!

Mental health issues

Individuals struggling with mental health conditions may misuse prescription drugs as a form of self-medication, believing that these substances can offer temporary relief from their symptoms. What they don’t know, though, is that using prescription drugs without consulting a doctor is anything but safe or effective. In reality, it can worsen the problem and lead to a cycle of dependence that only complicates the treatment of the initial mental disorder.

Peer pressure

Social influence, especially among teenagers and young adults, can lead to prescription drug misuse. Peer pressure and the desire to fit in or escape emotional distress can drive you to experiment with these substances.

Seeking help

When it comes to overcoming substance use disorder (SUD) stemming from prescription drug abuse, finding the right support and treatment is a must. We Level Up California offers a comprehensive inpatient SUD program designed to address a range of dependencies, including dependency on barbiturates, opioids, and amphetamines, as well as providing specialized care if you need dual diagnosis treatment.

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Inpatient SUD program

Our program is structured to support you through every stage of recovery, focusing on:

  • Prescription drug detoxification, which helps you safely withdraw from substances under medical supervision.
  • Following detox, the rehabilitation phase starts to involve assorted therapies and treatments that address the psychological aspects of addiction. They help you understand the root causes of the problem and enable you to develop strategies to support long-term sobriety.
  • Specifically designed to tackle opioid dependencies, the opioid treatment program (OTP) utilizes medication-assisted treatment (MAT) alongside counseling and behavioral therapies. This approach aims to reduce cravings and provides a more stable foundation for long-term recovery.

Support services

Recovery is a lifelong process, and addiction affects more than just the addicted individual. Therefore, we provide ongoing support that extends even after the opiate rehab California addicts have found helpful, and we provide it both for the person in recovery and their loved ones. With family therapy, for example, we aim to strengthen family dynamics and equip the household members with the understanding that a person trying to get better needs—now more than ever!

Stay aware of the most abused prescription drugs and avoid addiction!

There are many reasons why people misuse prescription drugs, and there are also plenty of misunderstandings related to their safety. Thinking that prescription drugs are safe just because they are, well, prescribed can lead us down a risky path. Misuse can start for different reasons, be it managing pain or trying to cope with mental health issues. Many of these medications also bring fast results; the pain goes away, and the symptoms subside, often within less than an hour. But just as they work fast to ”alleviate” the problem, they also quickly bring the addiction to your doorstep.

So, if you or someone you love is finding it hard to resist the temptation of the most abused prescription drugs or have already become dependent, talk to professionals. Access proper treatment, and, with time, these drugs will stop defining your life!

  1. Cooper, Mae, et al. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 2022.
  2. Health Care Almanac Substance Use in California: Prevalence and Treatment. 2022.
  3. National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics. “Opioid Crisis: Facts & Statistics on Prescription Opioid Addiction.” NCDAS, 2019,
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drug Overdose Deaths.”, CDC, 23 June 2021,

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