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SAMHSA News - Volume XI, Number 1, Winter 2003

Prescription Drug Abuse Rises: SAMHSA and FDA Educate Public

Data from SAMHSA's 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse indicate that abuse of prescription drugs is rising rapidly in the United States. In 2001, almost 3 million youth age 12 to 17 had used prescription medications non-medically in their lifetimes.

"The public needs to know that just because a medication is safe and even life-saving when used appropriately, it is not harmless if used inappropriately," said SAMHSA Administrator Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W. "Abuse of prescription drugs can lead to addiction, misdiagnosis of serious illness, life-threatening circumstances, and even death."

Data from the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse showed that about 15 percent of 18- and 19-year-olds used prescription medications non-medically in the past year. For persons age 12 to17, 7.9 percent reported past-year non-medical use of prescription medications. Among those age 18 to 25, 12.1 percent used prescription medications non-medically. These figures include: 6.4 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 9.6 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds who used prescription pain relievers; 2.2 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 3.4 percent of those age 18 to 25 who used stimulants; and 1.7 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 4.2 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds who used tranquilizers non-medically.

Young adults, even teens, are taking opioids, anti-depressants, and stimulants for recreation," said H. Westley Clark, M.D., J.D., M.P.H., Director of SAMHSA's Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. "They do not seem to realize that this misuse can lead to serious problems with addiction."

An additional report from SAMHSA's Drug Abuse Warning Network shows that visits to emergency departments in hospitals increased significantly from 1994 to 2001 for narcotic prescription pain relievers. Visits naming oxycodone increased 352 percent; methadone 230 percent; morphine 210 percent; and hydrocodone 131 percent. The data show that persons coming to emergency departments often used more than one drug. Multiple drugs were mentioned in 72 percent of the emergency department visits involving narcotic prescription pain medications.

SAMHSA has joined with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to launch a public education effort focused on prescription medications.

"FDA recognizes the very real issue of prescription drug abuse," said FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan, M.D., Ph.D. "Our job is to strike a balance-to maximize the potential benefits that patients get from these drugs-while minimizing their risks."

The first products of this cooperative endeavor feature posters, brochures, and print advertisements related to the dangers of abusing prescription pain relievers. Materials include two print public service announce-ments, The Buzz Takes Your Breath Away and It's to Die For, and a consumer education brochure titled The Buzz Takes Your Breath Away-Permanently. The educational materials are targeted to get the attention of 14- to 25-year-olds, but the materials are relevant for anyone who uses prescription pain relievers for non-medical purposes.

FDA consumer information on the dangers of abusing prescription pain relievers is available by calling 1-(888) INFO-FDA or 1 (888) 463-6332. Summaries of SAMHSA's reports on prescription drug abuse are available at

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