The Status Of Prescription Drug Abuse In America

Treating Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Alprazolam, And Other Medications

Prescription drug abuse has been a growing public health concern for physicians, addiction counselors, and federal, state, and local governments over the past decade. According to a 2011 report, almost one-third of all first-time drug users (ages 12 and above) chose a prescription medication as their first substance of abuse.

What Types Of Prescription Drugs Are Most Commonly Abused?

The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants are the most commonly abused drugs.

One reason people abuse these drugs more than others is simply their availability. Between 1991 and 2010, the number of opioid prescriptions increased from 76 million to 210 million, and stimulant prescriptions saw an even more drastic increase from 4 million in 1991 to 45 million 2010.

Most people (nearly 70 percent) who abuse prescription drugs buy or steal the drugs from friends and family members or abuse drugs that they have been prescribed.

Who Abuses Prescription Drugs?

Prescription drug abuse knows no class, race, age, or professional boundaries. High school students and the elderly, enlisted members of the military and professionals, all have been found to abuse prescription medications. Although all demographic groups are at risk for prescription drug abuse, women and adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are more likely to abuse prescription drugs. Results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicate that more than 2 million people abused prescription drugs for the first time in 2009.

What Are State Governments, The Medical Community, and Pharmaceutical Companies Doing To Prevent Abuse?

Many state legislators have passed laws in efforts to reduce the likelihood of abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that seven types of laws help prevent abuse:

  • Laws that require the physician to perform a physical exam prior to endorsing a prescription
  • Laws that enforce the use of tamper-resistant prescription forms
  • Laws that monitor and regulate clinics for pain treatment
  • Laws that limit a patient's supply of a drug or the frequency at which a prescription may be refilled
  • Laws that target "doctor shopping" or other forms of fraud
  • Laws that require patients to present a legal form of ID prior to receiving a prescription
  • Laws that offer immunity to users who seek help for an overdose

By 2010, the most popular laws across all states were those that set prescription limits and those that required people to have a physical examination before a prescription could be issued.

Many states also require physicians to log all prescriptions so that doctors around the state can determine how many prescriptions a person has been given.

Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin, one of the most popularly abused opioids, reformulated the drug early in the decade in order to reduce its abuse. Before the reforumulation, the drug could be crushed so that it could be snorted or injected, providing an instant high similar to that produced by heroin. The new formulation does not become granular when crushed, which limits its ability to be used in this manner.

Though fewer people now abuse OxyContin than before, other oxycodone-based drugs and heroin provide users with a similar high. Drug officials and counselors believe that regardless of what future means of deterring prescription drug abuse transpire, addicts will find new ways to abuse the drug or they will switch to other substances.

During the 1990s, federal drug officials noticed the rise in prescription drug abuse. Since then, substances have changed and states have fought back through legislation. Prescription drug abuse in America continues to be a concern for the medical and law enforcement communities.