Misuse of Prescription Drugs: A National Concern
With the misuse of prescription drugs second only to marijuana as the Nation's most prevalent drug problem, the annual average number of people using pain relievers nonmedically for the first time exceeds the number of new marijuana users, according to a recent study released by SAMHSA.
The report, Misuse of Prescription Drugs: Data from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, covers four broad classes of prescription psychotherapeutics. These include pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives, along with specific information on OxyContin (a pain reliever) and methamphetamine (a stimulant). Nonmedical use (or misuse) is defined as use of these medications without a prescription or simply for the experience or feeling the drug can cause.
"While marijuana continues to be the most commonly used illicit drug, the misuse of prescription drugs is clearly a growing national concern that requires action from multiple segments of our society," said Assistant Surgeon General Eric B. Broderick, D.D.S., M.P.H., SAMHSA Acting Deputy Administrator.
Based on combined data from SAMHSA's 2002 through 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, an annual average of 2.7 million persons age 12 or older began misusing a prescription psychotherapeutic drug in the past year, while an annual average of 2.1 million people age 12 or older started using marijuana.
An annual average of 11.3 million persons age 12 or older were using prescription pain relievers nonmedically in the past year compared with an annual average of 25.5 million past-year users of marijuana. This includes new users and users who had started more than 12 months previously.
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Prescription Drugs and Young Adults
The report shows that, among specific age groups, young adults age 18 to 25 tended to have the highest rates of nonmedical use in the past year. This group is followed by youth 12 to 17, with most of these young people getting prescription drugs from friends or family members—not the Internet.
"We know that 70 to 80 percent of those 12 years or older said they got their drugs from a friend or relative and, very likely, those came from the family medicine cabinet," said Dr. Broderick. "Only 4.3 percent got the pain relievers from a drug dealer or other stranger and only 0.8 percent reported buying the drug on the Internet. Parents and other caregivers should store their prescription drugs carefully and dispose of any unused drugs before they can fall into the wrong hands."
Pain relievers were used nonmedically in the past year by 11.8 percent of young adults compared with 7.5 percent of youth and 3.1 percent of adults age 26 or older. Among adults age 18 or older, the risk of dependence or abuse for psychotherapeutics was greater for persons who initiated nonmedical use before age 16 compared with those who initiated use at age 16 or older.
Although overall patterns for misuse of any prescription psychotherapeutic drug and for specific classes of psychotherapeutics continued to show stable rates, significant increases in the prevalence of lifetime misuse from 2002 through 2004 were observed for some specific types of drugs. Among persons age 12 or older, nonmedical use of pain relievers in the hydrocodone category (e.g., Vicodin) at any time in the individuals' lives increased from 5.9 percent in 2002 to 7.4 percent in 2004. And use of medications in the oxycodone category (e.g., Percocet or OxyContin) increased from 4.3 percent to 5.0 percent over that period.
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Misuse by Area
Almost 2 million people age 12 or older met criteria for past-year dependence or abuse of prescription drugs, including 1.4 million people for pain relievers, 573,000 for tranquilizers, 470,000 for stimulants, and 128,000 for sedatives. Only 12.5 percent of those with a prescription drug use disorder in the past year received specialty treatment for drug problems in that period. Specialty treatment includes treatment at a hospital (inpatient), a rehabilitation facility (inpatient or outpatient), or a mental health center.
Persons age 12 or older who were living in small metropolitan areas with populations of fewer than 250,000 had the highest rates by population density for misuse of any prescription psychotherapeutic drug (7.1 percent), pain relievers (5.4 percent), tranquilizers (2.6 percent), and stimulants (1.7 percent).
Colorado, Kentucky, and Washington State ranked among the states with the highest prevalences of nonmedical prescription pain reliever use among persons age 12 or older. The District of Columbia and the midwestern states of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota were among the areas with lower prevalences of pain reliever misuse for persons age 12 or older.
Misuse of Prescription Drugs: Data from the 2002, 2003, and 2004 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health is based on an annual survey of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population of the United States age 12 years or older. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is sponsored by SAMHSA and is planned and managed by SAMHSA's Office of Applied Studies. This report is available for free download on SAMHSA's Web site at www.oas.samhsa.gov/prescription/
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