Prescription drugs


Illicit prescription drugs are drugs obtained without a valid prescription from a qualified healthcare professional. They’re considered illicit because in the UK, prescription-only medicines are not legally available without a prescription from a qualified healthcare professional.

Also known as:

  • Speed
  • Base
  • Billy
  • Paste
  • Sulph
  • Whizz

This information is for people who have not received a prescription from a healthcare professional and are using medications illicitly.

If you are prescribed medication by a healthcare professional, it’s important to take it according to their instructions.

It’s possible to become dependent on prescription medications. If you feel like you need to continue taking a drug after your prescription ends, or like you need to take more to get the same effects, let your prescriber know as soon as you can so they can help you.

About prescription drugs

Examples of prescription medicines include strong painkillers (like gabapentinoids or opioids), antidepressants, and sleeping tablets (like Z-drugs or benzodiazepines). 

Types of prescription drugs include:

  • Pregabalin
  • Gabapentin
  • Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and diazepam
  • Opiates, such as codeine, Zomorph and Oxycontin
  • Zopiclone

Illicit medications may contain more, less or none of the medication you are expecting, and may also be mixed with other drugs. This means the way the drug looks, feels and impacts the body can vary significantly.

People take illicit prescription drugs for a number of reasons, including:

  • To help alleviate withdrawal symptoms if they have become dependent on prescribed drugs
  • For recreational purposes 
  • To increase the effects of other drugs they are taking

Prescription drugs purchased illicitly may contain several different substances, or even entirely different drugs to those you’re expecting to take. This can be extremely harmful and put you at increased risk of overdose.

How to reduce harm while using illicit prescription drugs

We recognise that some ways of using drugs carry less risk than others, and by providing information which supports people to make informed decisions, we can help people to minimise harm.

Before you start, check:

  • Is now the right time? How you’re feeling when you use illicit prescription drugs can impact the effects you may experience, so consider checking in with yourself and thinking about whether now is a good time for you.
  • Do I know what I’m taking? Researching what you’re planning to take, what the effects can be and how to reduce harm can help to keep you safe. 

While you're using:

Start low, go slow

Strength can vary between batches, even if you take the drug regularly, starting with a small amount and waiting at least two hours before your next dose can help to reduce the risk of overdose.

Try not to mix

Try to take amphetamine on its own, as mixing with other drugs or alcohol can increase your risk of overdose.

The recovery position

The recovery position helps to prevent someone unconscious from choking on vomit. If someone is unconscious, putting them in the recovery position, getting help if needed, and staying with them will help to reduce the risk of harm.

What do I do if I think someone has overdosed on illicit prescription drugs?

If someone passes out or falls asleep and you can’t wake them up after using illicit prescription drugs, put them in the recovery position and get help fast by calling 999, telling emergency services what you know.

Symptoms of overdose include:

  • Problems with your breathing or heart
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Altered mental state, confusion, disorientation
  • Feeling extremely dizzy (low blood pressure)
  • Muscle weakness or tremor
  • Lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme drowsiness 
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma
  • Stomach pain, diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Seizures

If you suspect someone has overdosed, it’s always best to administer naloxone. Naloxone reverses the effects of opioid drugs like heroin, morphine and fentanyl. Drugs bought illicitly can contain a mixture of substances, including opioids, so use naloxone if you have it. If someone hasn’t overdosed on opioids, naloxone won’t harm them. 

You can get a naloxone kit and training on how to use it from your local WithYou service

More information about naloxone, including how to use it.

Illicit prescription drug withdrawal signs, symptoms, and what to do

If your body develops a tolerance to a prescription drug, you may feel you need to take more to get the same effects. 

You can become dependent on some prescription drugs, and regular use can lead to physical withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop or cut back.

Stopping some drugs suddenly can lead to withdrawal complications. If you’re dependent on a prescription drug, WithYou can help you cut down safely, working alongside you, and your current prescriber if applicable, to create a plan which will support you in reducing as safely and comfortably as possible. 

If you’re dependent on prescription drugs, we can help you cut down safely, as stopping suddenly can lead to withdrawal complications. 

Find a local service

Looking for support?

If you’re concerned about your illicit prescription drug use, or if you’re worried about someone you know, we’re WithYou. We provide free, confidential and non-judgemental support and advice. Please don’t hesitate to reach out: