The epidemic of prescription drug abuse

This information is from the 2011 document entitled Epidemic:  Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis  from the Office of the President of the United States.

Prescription drug abuse is the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.1 The same survey found that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or from the Internet.2 Additionally, the latest Monitoring the Future study—the Nation’s largest survey of drug use among young people—showed that prescription drugs are the second most-abused category of drugs after marijuana.3 In our military, illicit drug use increased from 5 percent to 12 percent among active duty service members over a three-year period from 2005 to 2008, primarily attributed to prescription drug abuse.4

Although a number of classes of prescription drugs are currently being abused, this action plan primarily focuses on the growing and often deadly problem of prescription opioid abuse. The number of prescrip­ tions filled for opioid pain relievers—some of the most powerful medications available—has increased dramatically in recent years. From 1997 to 2007, the milligram per person use of prescription opioids in the U.S. increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams, an increase of 402 percent.5 In addition, in 2000, retail pharmacies dispensed 174 million prescriptions for opioids; by 2009, 257 million prescrip­ tions were dispensed, an increase of 48 percent.6 Further, opiate overdoses, once almost always due to heroin use, are now increasingly due to abuse of prescription painkillers.7

These data offer a compelling description of the extent to which the prescription drug abuse problem in America has grown over the last decade, and should serve to highlight the critical role parents, patients, healthcare providers, and manufacturers play in preventing prescription drug abuse.

These realities demand action, but any policy response must be approached thoughtfully, while acknowledging budgetary constraints at the state and Federal levels. The potent medications science has developed have great potential for relieving suffering, as well as great potential for abuse. There are many examples: acute medical pain treatment and humane hospice care for cancer patients would be impossible without prescription opioids; benzodiazepines are the bridge for many people with serious anxiety disorders to begin the process of overcoming their fears; and stimulants have a range of valuable uses across medical fields. Accordingly, any policy in this area must strike a balance between our desire to minimize abuse of prescription drugs and the need to ensure access for their legitimate use. Further, expanding effective drug abuse treatment is critical to reducing prescription drug abuse, as only a small fraction of drug users are currently undergoing treatment.

This Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan expands upon the Administration’s National Drug Control Strategy and includes action in four major areas to reduce prescription drug abuse:

  • Education-raise awareness through the education of parents, youth, patients, and healthcare providers.
  • Moni­toring-prescription drug monitoring programs PDMPs track controlled substances prescribed by authorized practitioners and dispensed by pharmacies
  • Proper disposal-proper disposal of unused, unneeded, or expired medications
  • Enforcement-practitioners who abuse their prescribing privileges and doctor shoppers visiting multiple prescribers
  • Summary and Call to Action Research and medicine have provided a vast array of medications to cure disease, ease suffering and pain, improve the quality of life, and save lives. This is no more evident than in the field of pain management. However, as with many new scientific discoveries and new uses for existing compounds, the potential for diversion, abuse, morbidity, and mortality are significant. Prescription drug misuse and abuse is a major public health and public safety crisis.

President Obama has even enlisted Macklemore in the fight against prescription drug abuse.

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