Learn How to Identify PillsAnna Ciulla
If you’ve been cleaning your adolescent or teen son or daughter’s room and discover a stash of pills, likely not in prescription containers, your first reaction may be panic. After all, you know which, if any, prescription medications your child takes because you supervise their medical regimen— and, you’ve tried your best to provide positive parenting to prevent drug use. Now, though, besides worrying what these pills are or where they came from, you also feel helpless. What should you do? Before you have a conversation with your child, the first step is to learn how to identify the pills.
WHAT KIND OF PILLS DO ADOLESCENTS AND TEENS MISUSE?
It may be somewhat comforting to recognize that adolescents and teens are in the process of exploring who they are, discovering their talents and abilities and testing their limits. Some of this commonly entails experimentation with alcohol and drugs, rebelling against parental authority and testing house rules and limitations.
While you may have had conversations about the dangers of underage drinking and using illicit drugs, you may have overlooked the prevalence and misuse of prescription medications. Among adolescents and teens, some of the most commonly misused prescription drugs are study drugs, pain relievers, and benzodiazepines. These drugs may be obtained from a friend, parent or another relative, taken with or without permission, stolen, or received during get-togethers called “pill parties,” where all sorts of prescription drugs are passed around and experimented with. Taking multiple pills, smoking marijuana or vaping, and drinking alcohol often occurs during these parties. This can result in an addiction that requires specialized teen addiction treatment.
By law, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires every legitimate prescription medication in pill, tablet or capsule form to look unique from all others. This requirement helps make it easier to identify prescription medications, although it does not help much with counterfeit drugs. The unique design consists of the color, shape, pattern (lines, speckled, etc.), and imprints (numbers, letters, logo, name of drug). The U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health maintains a helpful website, Pillbox, to help consumers identify drugs. Search criteria include entering a drug name or ingredient, imprint, shape, color, and inactive ingredient (if known). Search results include data specific to that drug, links to drug label, drug information and more. Another useful site is Pill Identifier, maintained by WebMD.
If you are unsure of the name or have other questions about the pills you’ve found, take them to your pharmacist to identify them.
The class of medications called benzodiazepines (benzos) act on the body’s central nervous system (CNS) to produce a calming effect. Use of benzodiazepines in combination with alcohol and/or other drugs (prescription or illicit) can be life-threatening, causing overdose and death. Benzos are also highly addictive. According to data from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 223,000 adolescents misused prescription tranquilizers for the first time, about 600 adolescents each day, and an estimated 128,000 adolescents were past-year misusers of prescription tranquilizers.
Diazepam is the generic name for a benzodiazepine medication prescribed to treat anxiety, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal, as well as to relieve muscle spasms, and sedate patients before surgery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Valium accounted for more than 2,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016.
How to Identify Valium:
Prescription Valium comes in 2, 5, and 10 mg tablets, each with a “V” cutout in the center, and identified as follows:
- Valium 2 mg tablet – white, round, imprinted with 2 Valium, Roche Roche
- Valium 5 mg tablet – yellow, round, imprinted with 5 Valium, Roche Roche
- Valium 10 mg tablets – blue, round, imprinted with 10 Valium, Roche Roche
Alprazolam is the generic name for the benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety and panic disorders. According to the 2017 Monitoring the Future Report, Xanax (followed by Valium) is one of the most commonly prescribed benzodiazepines and has been the tranquilizer high school students most widely used without medical supervision from 2006 on. The most recent report from the CDC showed more than 6,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016, 468 were deemed suicide by Xanax. Xanax is a Schedule IV controlled substance.
How to Identify Xanax:
Xanax is easily identified in prescription form, as it clearly shows the “XANAX” brand name.
- Xanax 0.25 mg tablet – white, oval, imprinted with XANAX, 0.25
- Xanax 0.5 mg tablet – peach (orange), oval, imprinted with XANAX, 0.5
- Xanax 1 mg tablet – blue, oval, imprinted with XANAX, 1.0
- Xanax 2 mg tablet – white, oblong, imprinted with XANAX, 2.0
- Xanax XR 0.5 mg tablet – white, pentagram (5-sided), imprinted with X, 0, 5
- Xanax XR 1 mg tablet – yellow, square, imprinted with X, 1
- Xanax XR 2 mg tablet – blue, round, imprinted with X, 2
- Xanax XR 3 mg tablet – green, triangular, imprinted with X, 3
The CDC report also indicated that 96 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2016 that involved either Xanax or Valium also involved other drugs. In 2016, the percentage of high school seniors using Xanax was 2.8 percent (up 0.3 percent from 2015).
OPIATES: PRESCRIPTION PAIN RELIEVERS
Among high school students, the use of prescription narcotic pain relievers without medical supervision has continued to decline for OxyContin, Vicodin (since 2010) and hydrocodone, according to the 2017 MTF. The 2017 NSDUH shows that an estimated 316,000 adolescents misused prescription pain relievers for the first time in 2017 (about 900 adolescents each day), while an estimated 767,000 adolescents misused prescription pain relievers in the past year.
OxyContin is the brand name of a prescription pain reliever in the classification of opiate (narcotic) analgesics. The generic name is hydrocodone. OxyContin is prescribed to help manage severe chronic pain, such as cancer. Taking high doses of the drug and then decreasing dosage may precipitate withdrawal. OxyContin is a Schedule II controlled substance and is highly addictive. Serious side effects of OxyContin use include seizures, agitation, confusion, and hallucinations. Fainting, severe drowsiness, slow or shallow breathing, and inability to be roused may result in overdose and death without immediate medical assistance.
How to Identify OxyContin:
Oxycontin comes in crush-resistant, extended-release tablets in various strengths:
- OxyContin 10 mg tablet, crush-resistant, extended release – white, round, imprinted with OP, 10
- OxyContin 15 mg tablet, crush-resistant, extended release – gray, round, imprinted with OP, 15
- OxyContin 20 mg tablet, crush-resistant, extended release – pink, round, imprinted with OP, 20
- OxyContin 30 mg tablet, crush-resistant, extended release – brown, round, imprinted with OP, 30
- OxyContin 40 mg tablet, crush-resistant, extended release – yellow, round, imprinted with OP, 40
- OxyContin 60 mg tablet, crush-resistant, extended release – red, round, imprinted with OP, 60
- OxyContin 80 mg tablet, crush-resistant, extended release – green, round, imprinted with OP, 80
Vicodin is another Schedule II hydrocodone opiate prescription drug intended to treat pain that is moderate to severe. It contains a combination of the opiate hydrocodone (to relieve pain) and non-opiate acetaminophen (to reduce fever).
How to Identify Vicodin:
Vicodin is available in three tablet formats:
- Vicodin 5 mg-300 mg tablet – white, oblong, imprinted with 5 300, VICODIN
- Vicodin ES 7.5 mg-300 mg tablet – white, oblong, imprinted with 7.5, VICODIN ES
- Vicodin HP 10 mg-300 mg tablet – white, oblong, imprinted with 10 300, VICODIN HP
Dilaudid is the brand name for a hydromorphone medication prescribed to treat severe, chronic pain requiring an opiate analgesic and for which alternative treatments are inadequate. Like OxyContin and Vicodin, Dilaudid is a Schedule II narcotic. It is highly addictive, especially if the user has a substance use disorder involving alcohol and/or other drugs or substances.
How to Identify Dilaudid:
In tablet form, Dilaudid comes in 2, 4, and 8 mg tablets, identified as follows:
- Dilaudid 2 mg tablet – orange, round, imprinted with P, 2
- Dilaudid 4 mg tablet – light yellow, round, imprinted with P, 4
- Dilaudid 8 mg tablet – white, triangular, imprinted with P d, 8
Amphetamines are in the class of stimulant drugs and include study drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin. According to the DEA website, prescription stimulants are used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Adderall is commonly used and abused as a study aid, to remain awake, and to lose weight by reducing appetite. The 2017 NSDUH shows an estimated 123,000 adolescents were past-year misusers of prescription stimulants.
How to Identify Adderall:
Using a pill identifier guide, look for the images of commonly prescribed amphetamines (dextromethorphan-amphetamine). Adderall has multiple prescription strengths, shapes, colors and imprints.
- Adderall 5 mg tablet – white, round, imprinted with 5, dp
- Adderall 7.5 mg tablet – blue, oval, imprinted with 7.5, dp
- Adderall 10 mg tablet – blue, round, imprinted with 1 0, dp
- Adderall 12.5 mg tablet – peach, round, imprinted with 12.5, dp
- Adderall 15 mg tablet – peach, oval, imprinted with 15, dp
- Adderall 20 mg tablet – peach, round, imprinted with 2 0, dp
- Adderall 30 mg tablet – peach, round, imprinted with 3 0, dp
There’s also Adderall XR oblong capsules in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 mg strengths, various colors and imprints.
How to Identify Ritalin:
Methylphenidate (Ritalin) helps increase attention, focus, organization and listening skills, as well as to control behavior problems. Ritalin is also used in the treatment of a type of sleep disorder called narcolepsy. Misuse of Ritalin may cause problems with heart and blood pressure that could prove fatal. Ritalin use by high school students has continued to decline since the prescription controlled stimulant was first measured by the MTF study in 2001.
- Ritalin 5 mg tablet – yellow, round, imprinted with CIBA, 7
- Ritalin 10 mg tablet – pale green, round, imprinted with CIBA, 3
- Ritalin 20 mg tablet – pale yellow, round, imprinted with CIBA, 34
Ritalin is also prescribed in Ritalin LA in 10, 20, 30, and 40 mg capsules, oblong shape, various colors, and imprints.
For more about teen drug use, addiction and detox, check out these articles:
- Adderall Detox Guide – Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
- Addiction to Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and Other Opiates: Warning Signs, Effects and Stats
- Benzos Detox – Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
- Crystal Meth Withdrawal Timeline
- Methamphetamine Detox – Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
- Oxycodone Detox – Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
- Percocet Detox: 5 Things You Should Know
- Synthetic Drugs Detox – Withdrawal Symptoms and Timeline
- Teen Addiction Treatment: How Addiction & Treatment Differs for Teens
- Vicodin Withdrawal Timeline – Common Symptoms to Expect
AccessDataFDA.gov. “Dilaudid.” Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2009/019034s018lbl.pdf
Pediatrics. “Suicide and Suicide Attempts in Adolescents.” Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/138/1/e20161420.long
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drug Overdose Deaths in the United States, 1999-2017.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db329.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Vital Statistics Reports. “Drugs Most Frequently Involved in Drug Overdose Deaths, United States: 2011-2016.” Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/nvsr.htm
Drug Enforcement Administration. Get Smart About Drugs. “Identifying Drugs.” Retrieved from https://www.getsmartaboutdrugs.gov/drugs
Drugs.com. “Dilaudid.” Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/dilaudid.html
Drugs.com. “Benzodiazepines.” Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/drug-class/benzodiazepines.html
Monitoring the Future. “Monitoring the Future: a continuing study of American youth.” Retrieved from http://monitoringthefuture.org/
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Family Checkup: Positive Parenting Prevents Drug Abuse.” Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/family-checkup
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Principles of Adolescent Substance Use Disorder Treatment: A Research-Based Guide.” Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment-research-based-guide/principles-adolescent-substance-use-disorder-treatment
National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Pillbox.” Retrieved from https://pillbox.nlm.nih.gov/
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/report/2017-nsduh-annual-national-report
Web MD. “Pill Identifier.” Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/pill-identification/default.htm