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Prescription Drugs

Prescription Drug Abuse

Medication use is commonplace in America. A 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that, among 2590 participants aged 18 years or older:

  • 81% used at least 1 medication in the preceding week
  • 50% took at least one prescription drug
  • 7% took five or more.
  • The highest overall prevalence of medication use was among women aged at least 65 years, of whom 12% took at least ten medications and 23% took at least five prescription drugs.
  • Herbals/supplements were taken by 14% of the population. Among prescription drug users, 16% also took an herbal/supplement


The non-medical use or abuse of prescription drugs remains a serious public health concern. Prescription drugs should only be taken exactly as directed by a medical professional. 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 simplest and most reliable way to distinguish normal use of medications from their abuse is to consider whether they are being used for a legitimate medical purpose in accordance with the directions of a competent and ethical treating physician. Patients who take such medications for the right reasons and in the right doses cannot be described as abusing medications. They may and frequently do develop the syndrome of physical dependence (causes a withdrawal syndrome) on medications which are capable of causing this - but the likelihood of proceeding to substance dependence (the behavioral syndrome of addiction) is small.

Some Facts:

  • 2.4 million people initiated non-medical use of prescription pain relievers in 2004
  • This is more than the estimated numbers of initiates for marijuana (2.1 million) or cocaine (1.0 million) Factors contributing to the problem:
  • 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 used 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: narcotic painkillers, sedatives and tranquilizers, and stimulants
  • Data from the National Drug Intelligence Center's 2006 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 pharmaceuticals
  • During 2005, there were an estimated 598,542 Emergency Room visits that involved non-medical use 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 ; one in ten have abused cough medication
  • Monitoring the Future data for 2006 show that lifetime prevalence rates for amphetamine use without a doctor's orders were 7.3 percent for 8th graders, 11.2 percent for 10th graders, and 12.4 percent for 12th graders.
  • Adderall XR and Ritalin prescriptions increased from 1.6 million a month in 2000 to 2.6 million a month in 2004. 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 21.3 percent of State prisoners and 16.9 percent of Federal prisoners surveyed in 2004 indicated that they abused depressants at some point in their lives. For this report, depressants were defined to include barbiturates, tranquilizers and Quaaludes.

Using Prescription Drugs Safely

  • Always follow medication directions carefully.
  • Don't increase or decrease doses without talking with your doctor.
  • Don't stop taking medication on your own.
  • Don't crush or break pills.
  • Be clear about the drug's effects on driving and other daily tasks.
  • Learn about the drug's potential interactions with alcohol, other prescription medicines, and over-the-counter medicines.
  • Inform your doctor about your past history of substance abuse.
  • Don't use other people's prescription medications and don't share yours.
  • 6,300 pharmacies around the country have signed up for a pilot project with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. When patients fill prescriptions for a list of abuse-prone medicines, from Ambien to Vicodin, the pharmacist also will hand over a flier urging them to mix the old, non used medications with used cat litter, coffee grounds, or sawdust to make them less appealing before throwing them into the garbage.  

To Prevent Prescriptions Drug Abuse Click Here:

National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA) Prescription Drugs Facts