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Three white prescription capsules on a light grey background
Man sorting his medications

There are hundreds of thousands of drugs in the world, from prescription drugs to over-the-counter medications to supplements. It is important to understand which medications you are taking, the side effects, risks, and possible interactions with other drugs. This is especially important for the operational readiness of our active-duty service members.


Prescription drugs are medications that are prescribed by your health care provider. When taken as directed, these medicines can be safe and effective for treating many health conditions. There are many categories of prescription drugs including pain relievers , central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants. Though helpful, these medications can be misused and abused. Make sure to take your prescription medications as prescribed and talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Doctors Prescription Pad with a yellow pen sitting on it. A stethoscope sits nearby
of people have taken at least one prescription drug in the last 30 days
of people have taken three or more prescription drugs in the last 30 days
of people have taken five or more prescription drugs in the last 30 days
In 2018
860.4 million
drugs were prescribed at a physician office visit
Illustration of a Prescription Bottle
Three most frequently prescribed drug categories included analgesics (pain killers), antihyperlipidemic agents (statins/cholesterol-lowering drugs), and antidepressants
In 2018
336 million
drugs were prescribed at a hospital emergency department visit
Illustration of a pile of pills
Three most frequently prescribed drug categories included analgesics (pain killers), minerals and electrolytes, and antiemetic or antivertigo agents (anti-nausea and anti-vomiting drugs)
In 2021,
of U.S. adults with chronic pain used a prescription opioid in the past three months
of U.S. adults 45-64 use prescription opiods
A recent Health Related Behaviors Survey (HRBS) reported illicit drug use among service members at less than one percent across all branches and among both enlisted personnel and officers

Over-the-counter, or non-prescription, medicines can be purchased at local pharmacies, grocery stores, convenience stores, and online. These medicines treat a variety of conditions and symptoms including pain, coughs, colds, gastrointestinal issues, acne, and more. Though a prescription is not needed to purchase these products, some OTC medications have active ingredients with the potential for misuse in doses higher than the recommended amount provided on the label.

Even though OTCs are not prescribed, active-duty service members should be aware the medicine they are taking is both being used correctly and does not contain any banned substances.

Hand holding a blister pack of blue and white capsules. Background is a blurred convenience store

Though there are a variety of Substance risk factors, some people are at higher risk for substance use than others. Though no one factor or combinations of these risk factors cause SUD—substance use disorder—they can increase the risk of substance use and misuse.

  • Previous or current drug addiction, including alcohol and tobacco
  • Family history of SUD
  • Certain pre-existing mental health conditions
  • Exposure to peer pressure or social environments where drugs are present
  • Easy access to prescription drugs, especially addictive substances
  • Lack of knowledge about drugs and their potential harm
  • Community poverty
  • Lack of parental supervision

Though there are a variety of SUD risk factors, there are also protective factors that reduce a person’s risk.

  • Strong self-efficacy (believe in self-control and competency)
  • Parental monitoring and support
  • Positive relationships among family, friend groups, and community groups
  • Good performance (e.g. school and work)
  • Anti-drug policies (e.g. school, community, and work)
  • Community resources

Safe disposal of your medicines protects you, your family, and your community. Proper disposal helps prevent accidental drug misuse and abuse, and reduces chemicals that leech into our water systems and environment. There are many options for safe disposal of your prescription medications. Military pharmacies offer mail-in envelopes you can pick up and take with you and/or secure bins where you can drop your unwanted medications onsite. Each option comes with easy-to-follow instructions for proper disposal.

Blue bin used to dispose of drugs in a military pharmacy. A sign on top of the bin gives instructions about what can go in the bin

Though some states have legalized the use of prescription and/or recreational marijuana, the use of marijuana, cannabidiol, cannabinoid derivatives, and THC-infused products is prohibited for military members (Uniform Code of Military Justice via Article 112A).

After tobacco and alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used addictive drug. With the rise in popularity of vaping and e-cigarette devices, THC (the ingredient in marijuana that produces the high) use in these devices has also increased. Service members who use these devices should be cautious to ensure they are not consuming prohibited substances.

Too Much to Lose - Marijuana, CBD, Hemp Facts

    Marijuana’s short-term effects include:

  • Altered senses (e.g. seeing brighter colors and hearing sounds more clearly)
  • Altered sense of time
  • Changes in mood
  • Impaired body movement
  • Difficulty with thinking and problem-solving
  • Impaired memory
  • Hallucinations or delusions (may happen with higher doses)
  • Psychosis (may occur with regular use of higher doses)

    Marijuana’s long-term effects include:

  • Altered brain structure, especially when onset of use occurred during adolescence
  • Risk of marijuana use disorder (MUD), especially when onset of use occurred during adolescence
  • Decreased cognitive ability
  • Impaired memory
  • Breathing problems
  • Problems with child development during and after pregnancy for mothers who smoked or consumed marijuana and THC products
  • Intense nausea and vomiting
  • Worsened mental health conditions, especially for those with schizophrenia

Contact your Medical Provider and/or your Command Drug and Alcohol Abuse Advisor (DAPA) for assistance

Too Much To Lose logo. Green Chevron pointing to the right, a white chevron pointing to the left

Too Much to Lose is a Defense Department (DOD) educational campaign, aligned to the Defense Health Agency, for the U.S. military. The mission of the campaign is to inform Service members on the facts and risks related to prescription drug misuse and illicit and prohibited drug use including marijuana, hemp and CBD that can impact their health, career and overall well-being.

Visit TooMuchToLose for more information -

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