Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most


Text Description of Infographic

Young adults (age 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription (Rx) opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. They do it for all kinds of reasons, including to get high or because they think Rx stimulants will help them study better. But Rx abuse is dangerous. In 2014, more than 1,700 young adults died from prescription drug (mainly opioid) overdoses—more than died from overdoses of any other drug, including heroin and cocaine combined—and many more needed emergency treatment.

Top Graph: The nonmedical use of prescription drugs is highest among young adults. Past year nonmedical use of prescription drugs is shown on a bar chart by age group. Six percent of 12- to 17- year-olds, 12 percent of 18- to 25- year-olds, and 5 percent of persons age 26 or older, used prescription drugs nonmedically in the past year. 

Middle Graph: More than 1,700 young adults died from Rx drug overdose in 2014–a 4-fold increase from 1999,  that’s nearly 5 persons per day.  A line graph shows prescription-drug-related overdose deaths increasing among persons ages 18- to 25- years-old from 418 deaths in 1999 to 1,741 deaths in 2014.

Bottom Figure: Among young adults, for every death due to Rx drug overdose, there were 22 treatment admissions6 and 119 emergency room visits7.


  1. CDC Wonder, 2016
  2. SAMHSA, NSDUH, 2015
  3. Rabiner et al., 2009
  4. McCabe et al., 2007
  5. Lord et al., 2011
  6. SAHMSA, DAWN, 2014
  7. SAMHSA, TEDS, 2015

This publication is available for your use and may be reproduced in its entirety without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated, using the following language: Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.