Lesson: Prescription Pain Medications

First published 2011. To view the latest Heads Up content, click here.

Use the lesson and student worksheet below to reinforce comprehension of the student article “Prescription Pain Medications.”

Dear Teacher:

This latest Heads Up installment focuses on prescription pain medications—what they are, how they work, and why they can be dangerous to abuse.

According to the Monitoring the Future survey, prescription pain medicines are among the most commonly abused drugs by teens after tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana. In fact, in 2009, 9.7 percent of 12th-graders reported nonmedical use of Vicodin®.

One reason that teens may be abusing prescription medications is misperceptions about their safety. Since doctors prescribe prescription painkillers, teens may assume they are safer than “street” drugs. This edition’s student article and lesson will help to dispel this myth by giving facts about prescription painkillers and how abuse can lead to addiction and other serious adverse health effects.

I urge you to share this important article with your students.

Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse


In This Installment:

  • Student article: Facts about how prescription pain medications affect the body and why abusing them is dangerous 

  • Student worksheet: A quiz to reinforce key facts and concepts presented in the student article 


Lesson Plan and Worksheet

Overview: The lesson below and reproducible worksheet on the reverse side reinforce comprehension of facts and concepts in the student article “Prescription Pain Medications.”

Alignment With National Standards

•  Science (NSES): Life Science: Structure and Function in Living Systems; Science in Personal and Social Perspectives: Personal and Community Health

•  Life Skills (McREL): Self-Regulation; Thinking and Reasoning


Student Article

Before-Reading Questions:

  • What do you know about the difference between pain medicine you might take for a headache and prescription pain medicine?

  • Why do you think pain medications such as Vicodin® and OxyContin® require a prescription?

After-Reading Questions (factual responses in italics):

  • How do opioid medications help control severe pain? (They mimic the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals but they’re more powerful and longer lasting.)

  • What factors does a doctor consider when writing a prescription? (A patient’s other medical conditions or medications; drug-use history; whether an opioid pain reliever will safely and effectively treat the pain, etc.)

  • In what ways are prescription medications most often abused? (Taking someone else’s medicine; taking a medicine to get high; taking a different dosage, etc.)

  • Why is it dangerous to abuse prescription pain medications? (Abuse has serious health risks, including adverse interactions with other medicines, overdose, and addiction.)

Critical Thinking:

  • If a pain medication prescribed to your friend is safe for him to use, why would it be unsafe for you to take?

  • What would you say to a friend who tells you that abusing prescription painkillers is a “safer” way to get high?


Student Worksheet

Use the quiz to reinforce comprehension of facts about prescription pain medications. Answers: 1. A; 2. B; 3. B; 4. A; 5. B; 6. B; 7. D; 8. E; 9. D; 10. C; 11. D

Click here to download and print a copy of the Student Worksheet (PDF)

Click here for the Student Worksheet online (HTML)


Writing Extensions:

1) Research/Essay assignment: Research true stories of celebrities or athletes who abused and/or became addicted to prescription painkillers. Drawing upon facts about abuse and addiction, write an essay commenting on the person’s story.
2) Creative writing: Write a story, poem, or play that depicts facts about prescription drug abuse and addiction. Outline why your main character starts taking a prescription medication, how he or she abuses the medicine, its effects on the body, signs of addiction, and how he or she gets help.


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