Prescription (Rx)

Drug Abuse

Operation Medicine Cabinet Clean Out, 04.30.2016






Click on one of the links below to view information and locations for Operation Medicine Cabinet Clean Out on Saturday, April 30.

Flyer in English (PDF)

Flyer in Spanish (PDF)

Flyer in Korean (PDF)


Lifetime Non-Medical Use of Painkillers in Fairfax County Students (8th-12th Grade)


Lifetime Non-Medical Use of Other Prescription Drugs in Fairfax County Students (8th-12th Grade)



Prescription drug abuse is a national problem affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. Teens and young adults are especially susceptible to prescription drug abuse.


Prescription drug abuse is defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) as “the use of a medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience or feelings elicited.” NIDA notes that several national surveys have reported that prescription medications, such as those used to treat pain, attention deficit disorders and anxiety, are being abused at a rate second only to marijuana among illicit drug users.


The abuse of prescription drugs is a growing problem and has become an epidemic, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time began by using a prescription drug non-medically.


The problem has become an urgent one as prescription drug abuse is increasingly deadly. The CDC reports that on average 46 people each day die from opioid prescription drug overdoses and another 1,150 more arrive in emergency rooms. Fairfax County is not immune to this problem.


What is it?

What are they abusing and why?

Young adults and teens are turning to prescription for a variety reasons, as seen by the examples below.


  • Some teens and young adults take powerful painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin or tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium to get high.
  • Students are abusing prescription drugs prescribed for ADD and ADHD to cram for exams and focus on their schoolwork.
  • Teens and young adults may abuse amphetamines to lose weight or steroids to bulk up.
  • Sometimes, misusing prescription drugs may be a form of experimentation or a means to self-medicate, reduce stress, or relieve boredom.
  • Some teens host “pharm” parties. Teens bring pills to parties and take them randomly, often with alcohol.

Most Commonly Abused Prescription Drugs


There are three kinds of prescription drugs that are commonly abused. Visit the NIDA pages to learn more about each of these classes of drugs;

  • Opioids- painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, or codeine
  • Depressants- drugs used to relieve anxiety or help a person sleep such as Valium or Xanax
  • Stimulants- drugs used for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as Adderall and Ritalin

Why is Rx drug abuse different?

Prescription drugs are legal to use for those who are prescribed them, which makes the way that teenagers and young adults access and use them different than other substances that are illegal.


  • More than 70% of those who abuse prescription drugs get them from a friend or relative, frequently without their knowledge and at no cost.
  • Some teens and young adults buy pills from friends or classmates, not from a typical “drug dealer,” or purchase them on the Internet.
  • Prescription drugs are easily available from a home medicine cabinet. No dealer is required, and if not properly monitored, no one will know that they are missing.
  • Many people, especially teens and young adults, think that taking another person’s prescription drug is “safer” than taking an illegal substance. But misusing a prescription drug can lead to dependency, addiction, a trip to the emergency room, or even death.

Prescription Opioids: Leading Factor in Heroin Abuse


The two most commonly abused pain medications are Oxycontin and Vicodin. Abuse of these drugs, when taken in ways other than prescribed, can have effects similar to heroin and be a first step toward heroin use.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly half of young people who inject heroin reported abusing prescription opioids before starting use of heroin. Many individuals reported that heroin was cheaper and easier to obtain than prescription opioids.  In addition, it was reported that crushing these prescription pills to snort or inject the powder was the initiation into using these methods of drug administration, much like heroin delivery.


How can you help?

  1. Talk with your children of all ages about the risks of prescription drug abuse and accidental overdose. And let them know that mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can be extremely dangerous. You may not always believe it, but they are listening.
  2. Monitor medication usage by family members and count your pills. Be sure to monitor your elderly parents’ pills as well to make sure that none are missing.
  3. Secure your prescriptions the same way you secure other valuables in your home, such as cash or jewelry. Buy a lockbox, if necessary ( Don’t leave prescriptions out where they can be taken by trades people or visitors to your home.
  4. Never allow sharing of medications.
  5. Don’t keep unused medications for “later on.” Dispose of unused medications in a timely manner.
  6. Dispose of medications (prescription and non-prescription) properly.


How do I get rid of my unused or expired medications?

There are ways to safely dispose of your medications. Please NEVER flush medication down the toilet or drain unless you are specifically instructed to do so. You can dispose of expired and unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs safely and easily at home. Follow these easy directions.


  1. Remove personal information from the medication container (sometimes you have to scratch it out) and discard it.
  2. Dilute the medication in a sealed container or sealable bag with cat box litter or used coffee grounds. Dishwashing liquid can also be used, if necessary.
  3. Throw away the sealed container or sealed bag in a trash can. DO NOT RECYCLE.


You can also contact your local pharmacy to purchase a postage-paid medication disposal envelope for about $5 or participate in a community take-back event.

Why proper disposal is important:

  • You will help to prevent possible drug misuse.
  • You will help prevent accidental poisoning or overdosing
  • You will protect the environment by keeping harmful medicines out of our waterways and away from wildlife.



In Our Community

In the fall of 2014, both the governor of Virginia and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors appointed task forces to study the related problems of prescription drug and heroin abuse.


Staff and members of the Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County (UPC) are involved in the countywide task force to examine the problem and come up with a strategic plan. In December 2014 the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Human Services Committee received a report on prescription drug and heroin abuse in Fairfax County from Police Captain Paul Cleveland and Prevention Manager Jesse Ellis (Neighborhood and Community Services).


The “Prescription drug and heroin abuse in Fairfax County” report reviewed recent trends and discussed the county's strategy for ongoing prevention efforts. The report also includes national, state and local data on prescription drug and heroin abuse, with findings that "clearly support the government’s declaration of a prescription drug and heroin epidemic." To see the report, click here.


A Fairfax County Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse Prevention Strategic Action Plan is being developed within a framework of five strategic areas:


  1. Education and awareness
  2. Prescription drug storage, disposal and monitoring
  3. Treatment
  4. Enforcement
  5. Data and monitoring


As the county’s plan evolves, coordination with federal initiatives and the work of the Virginia Governor’s Task Force on Prescription Drug and Heroin Abuse will be necessary to avoid duplication and ensure complementary approaches; the five focus areas listed above replicate those of the Task Force.


*Fairfax County data and tables are from The Fairfax County Youth Survey Report School year 2013-2014 at

Table 39. Lifetime Prevalence of Non-medical Use of Painkillers, by Selected Demographic Characteristics, Fairfax County, 2011 and 2013 (Values are percentages)

Table 43. Lifetime Prevalence of Non-medical Use of Other Prescription Drugs, by Selected Demographic Characteristics, Fairfax County, 2011 and 2013 (Values are percentages)

What We Are Doing To Help

Because prescription medicine abuse is a national epidemic and a growing problem among Fairfax County youth, the Unified Prevention Coalition has mobilized with collaborative partners to decrease youth access to opioid medications through a range of education actions and a focus on disposal activities. This concern has grown with the realization that our older teens in high school may be moving from opioid medicines to heroin use, similar to other parts of the country.

  • PROTECT Against Substance Abuse

Our Initiatives:


  • Prescription Drug RxArmory Lockboxes
  • Prescription Drug Fact Cards

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2970-B Chain Bridge Road

Oakton, Virginia 22124


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The Unified Prevention Coalition of Fairfax County (UPC) and this website are partially funded by a Virginia Strategic Prevention Framework - State Incentive Grant (SPF-SIG) and a federal SAMHSA Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking grant (STOP). UPC is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization with more than 60 partners and members from the community