Abuse of several categories of prescription drugs has increased markedly in the United States in the past decade and is now at alarming levels for certain agents, especially opioid analgesics and stimulants. Prescription drugs of abuse fit into the same pharmacological classes as their non-prescription counterparts. Thus, the potential factors associated with abuse or addiction versus safe therapeutic use of these agents relates to the expected variables: dose, route of administration, co-administration with other drugs, context of use, and expectations. Future scientific work on prescription drug abuse will include identification of clinical practices that minimize the risks of addiction, the development of guidelines for early detection and management of addiction, and the development of clinically effective agents that minimize the risks for abuse. With the high rates of prescription drug abuse among teenagers in the United States, a particularly urgent priority is the investigation of best practices for effective prevention and treatment for adolescents, as well as the development of strategies to reduce diversion and abuse of medications intended for medical use.