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Prescription Drug Abuse Quadruples Since 1998

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Earlier this year,  President Obama released the Administration’s Inaugural National Drug Control Strategy, developed by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) with input from a variety of federal, state, and local partners establishing five-year goals for reducing drug use and its consequences through a balanced policy of prevention, treatment, enforcement, and international cooperation.
Fueled by this charge, a new study, Substance Abuse Treatment Admissions Involving Abuse of Pain Relievers: 1998 and 2008, was developed as part of the agency’s strategic initiative on data, outcomes, and quality – an effort to inform policy makers and service providers on the nature and scope of behavioral health issues.

Based on data from SAMHSA’s Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS), a reporting system involving treatment facilities from across the country, the study revealed a “fourfold increase in substance abuse treatment admissions involving non-medical use of prescription narcotic pain relievers in 10 year period (1998-2008)”.

“The non-medical use of prescription pain-relievers is now the second most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the nation, and its tragic consequences are seen in substance abuse treatment centers and hospital emergency departments throughout our nation” said Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, (SAMHSA) Administrator Pamela S. Hyde, J.D.
“Our national prescription drug abuse problem cannot be ignored.   I have worked in the treatment field for the last 35 years, and recent trends regarding the extent of prescription drug abuse are startling,” said A. Thomas McLellan, Deputy Director, ONCP.   “We must work with prescribers, the pharmaceutical industry, and families to help us fight this scourge.”  

The dramatic rise in the proportion of admissions associated with the abuse of prescription pain medications was evident among nearly all segments of the population regardless of age, gender, educational level and employment status.

Among men, the proportion of treatment admissions involving the misuse of prescription pain medications rose to 8.1 percent in 2008. Among women, the proportion of admissions due to abuse rose to 13.3 percent in 2008. Among those with an eighth grade education or less, the proportion of admissions involving abuse of prescription pain relievers jumped to 9.7 percent; while among those with more than a high school education, the proportion climbed to 12.1 percent during the same time period.

Escalating trends were also evident among admissions for which medication-assisted opioid therapies, such as methadone or buprenorphine, were planned.  Since 1998 the proportion of medication-assisted therapy admissions involving prescription pain reliever abuse tripled from 6.8% to 26.5%.

 “This public health threat demands that we follow the President’s National Drug Control Strategy’s call for an all out effort to raise awareness of this risk and the critical importance of properly using, storing, and disposing of these powerful drugs,” says Hyde.

Hospital emergency rooms also feel the “pain” from prescription pain reliever abuse as visits involving nonmedical use of narcotic pain relievers rose from 144,644 in 2004 to 305,885 in 2008, an increase of 111% as highlighted in a SAMHSA study released in June, 2010.  Furthermore, visits more than doubled for both male and female, and among both patients younger than 21 and those aged 21 or older.

“These findings should serve as exclamation points to punctuate what we already know –abuse of prescription drugs is our country’s fastest-growing drug problem, the source of which lurks far too often in our home medicine cabinets. Reducing prescription drug abuse is a top priority of this Administration’s 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, and requires collaboration across the medical, prevention, treatment, and enforcement communities,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, Director, ONDCP.

Admissions for those aged 12-17 rose from 0.6% to 5.2% from 1998-2008. Prescription drug abuse is clearly an issue that must be addressed through, prevention, treatment, enforcement for people of all ages.  It is crucial however, that we recognize and intervene early with teenagers in recognizing the signs, educating them regarding prescription drugs, and taking steps in our own home to make sure prescription drugs are not accessible.

A 2009 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that prescription drug abuse is on the rise, with 20% of teens saying they have taken a prescription drug without a doctor's prescription.

Some misconceptions teens have regarding prescription drugs:

*Prescription drugs are safer and less addictive than street drugs.
*Using (anyone’s) prescription drugs isn’t illegal because these drugs are prescribed by doctors.
*Prescription drugs are not addictive.

All of the above are false and should be discussed with your teenager.

Prescription medications most oftenly abused by teens:
1. Opioids - oxycodone (OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and meperidine (Demerol)
2. Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants - pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax)
3. Stimulants - methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
The good news in this study could be that more people are seeking treatment. 

Laura Lamp King

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