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Prescription Drug Abuse

Taking prescription drugs in a way that hasn't been recommended by a doctor can be more dangerous than people think. In fact, it's drug abuse. And it's just as illegal as taking street drugs. A 2009 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that prescription drug abuse is on the rise. In this survey 20% of people stated they had taken prescription medications that were not prescribed for them. Prescription drugs should only be taken exactly as directed by a medical professional. That's because a doctor has examined these people and prescribed the right dose of medication for a specific medical condition. Hopefully, the doctor has also told them exactly how they should take the medicine, including things to avoid while taking the drug - such as drinking alcohol or taking other medications. They also should be made aware of the potentially dangerous side effects of the prescribed medications.

Whether they're using street drugs or prescription medications, individuals that abuse drugs often have trouble at school, at home, with friends, or with the law. The likelihood that someone will commit a crime, be a victim of a crime, or have an accident is higher when that person is abusing prescription drugs or in the case of any type of substance abuse. The non-medical use or abuse of prescription drugs remains a serious public health concern. The health risks associated with prescription drug abuse vary depending on the drug. For example, abuse of opioids, narcotics and pain relievers can slow or stop breathing. The abuse of depressants, including benzodiazepines and other tranquilizers, barbiturates and other sedatives, can result in seizure, respiratory depression and decreased heart rate. Stimulant abuse can lead to high body temperature, irregular heart rate, cardiovascular system failure and seizure.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs fall into three general classes: opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants and stimulants. Each class of prescription drug acts on the body in different ways, creating different effects. When the drug is taken properly under the supervision of a physician, these effects serve much less of a significant detriment or risk of addiction to those who need them, although it is possible to become addicted to a prescribed drug. However, irresponsible use, given the potentially pleasant effects of these drugs, increases the risk of prescription drug abuse dramatically.

Some facts about prescription drug abuse came to light in a recent survey by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):

  • 6.4 million people initiated non-medical use of prescription pain relievers in 2009
  • This is more than the estimated numbers of initiates for marijuana (5.1 million) or cocaine (2.0 million) combined.
There are many factors that are contributing to the problem of prescription drug abuse:
  • During 2010, there were an estimated 798,542 Emergency Room visits that involved the abuse of prescription, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals or dietary supplements (Drug Abuse Warning Network - DAWN)
  • Partnership for a Drug Free America's annual tracking study reports: one in five teens have abused a prescription pain medication; one in five report abusing prescription stimulants and tranquilizers ; two in ten have abused cough medication
  • Monitoring the Future data for 2009 show that lifetime prevalence rates for amphetamine use without a doctor's orders were 8.3 percent for 8th graders, 12.2 percent for 10th graders, and 12.9 percent for 12th graders.
  • Adderall XR and Ritalin prescriptions increased from 1.6 million a month in 2000 to 4.6 million a month in 2010, due to the high numbers of individuals being diagnosed with ADHD. In the past students used caffeine to stay awake and cram for exams; now these prescription stimulants are being used.
  • According to data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, approximately 28.3 percent of State prisoners and 19.9 percent of Federal prisoners surveyed in 2009 indicated that they abused prescription drugs at some point in their lives.
  • Most people take medicines only for the reasons their doctors prescribe them. But an estimated 20 percent of people in the United States (48 million people ages 12 and older) have taken prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons. This is prescription drug abuse. It is a serious and growing problem.(National Survey on Drug Use and Health - NSDUH)
  • Abusing some prescription drugs can lead to addiction. You can develop an addiction to many of these prescription drugs, including narcotic painkillers, sedatives and tranquilizers, and stimulants.
  • Data from the National Drug Intelligence Center's 2010 National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) reveal that 78.8 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies reported either high or moderate availability of illegally diverted prescription drugs.

A 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) survey showed a significant increase in the drug abuse of pain relievers from the previous year. The number of users age 12 or older rose from 33.9 million in 2008 to 39.8 million in 2009. Those medicines noted with particularly significant increases included:

  • Vicodin, Lortab or Lorcet: 19.1 million to25.7 million;
  • Percocet , Percodan or Tylox:12.7 million to 15.8 million;
  • hydrocodone:7.5 million to9.7 million;
  • Oxycontin:2.9 million to 4.8 million;
  • methadone:1.9 million to 3.2 million; and
  • Tramadol: 92,000 to 286,000.

The 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) revealed that some 29.5 million Americans (8.2 percent of the population) age 12 or older are current illicit drug users. Of this total, 8.3 million abuse prescription drugs (3.7 percent of the population), a figure second only to use of marijuana at 14.6 million (6.2 percent of the population). The NSDUH defines "current" as use of the indicated drug during the month prior to the survey.

The prescription drugs most commonly abused fall into three general classes: opioids (most often prescribed for severe pain), central nervous system depressants (most often prescribed for anxiety and sleep disorders) and stimulants (most often prescribed for ADHD, narcolepsy and obesity). Preventing the diversion of drugs that treat such a wide variety of disorders is a careful balancing act for physicians, pharmacists and policymakers as they attempt to ensure that prescription drugs are available for those who need them and not for those individuals who want to sell or abuse them. These groups seek to prevent prescription drug abuse and addiction and diversion through a range of methods, from keeping on the lookout for "doctor shoppers," to employing information technology solutions, to requiring greater security at pharmacies and dispensaries.

Individuals who are addicted to prescription drugs can find great hope in a drug rehab center with a good track record in helping people to recover from this addiction. Recovery can be more than just a dream; it happens often when people reach out to a treatment center with a proven track record in helping individuals recover from prescription drug abuse.

Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment Centers By State