Prescription Drug Abuse: a Growing Epidemic in the United States

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Prescription Drug Abuse: A Growing Epidemic in the United States
Prescription drug abuse and related overdoses are a major public health issue that continues to grow each year. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains prescription drug abuse as “the intentional use of a medication without a prescription.” (U.S. Health and Human Services, 2011) Since prescription drugs are legal and readily prescribed to alleviate pain and suffering, it poses a big challenge to control them. Many people, especially younger adults, feel that they are safer than illicit drugs because they can be found in their family medicine cabinet. Over the years, the number of people abusing these drugs has increased significantly.

According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), in 2007 there were “approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths” in the United States. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012) The use of prescription drugs continues to be the number one cause of these overdoses, more than heroin and cocaine combined. As part of the CDC’s study, they reported that over a ten-year period, between 1997 and 2007, the number of milligrams of prescription opioids prescribed per a person increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams. In 2000, pharmacies dispensed 174-million opioid prescriptions and in 2009, it increased to 257 million prescriptions. These are both major contributors to prescription drug abuse and overdoses due to the fact that prescription drugs are so easily available. As a result of this study, the CDC has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. (Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2011)

Prescription drug abuse spans across a wide range of populations. The prevalence of prescription drug abuse is higher among men, individuals between the ages of 18-64, non-Hispanic whites, service members, and poor, rural populations. The highest rate of prescription drug abuse is by young adults between the ages of 18-25. (U.S. Health and Human Services, 2011)) Of the individuals who reported non-medical prescription drug abuse, 70 percent reported getting the prescription drugs from a friend or relative, 18 percent reported getting it from one doctor, and less than 5 percent reported buying it from a drug dealer or stranger. (Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2011) Younger adults are at higher risk for overdose because they have a higher tendency to mix prescription drugs with alcohol or other illicit drugs.

“Multiple studies have revealed associations between prescription drug abuse and higher rates of cigarette smoking, heavy episodic drinking, and marijuana, cocaine, and other illicit drug use among adolescents, young adults, and college students in the United States.” (U.S. Health and Human Services, 2011)

This results in numerous emergency room visits for this particular population. Between 2004 and 2009, the number of emergency room visits related to non-medical use of prescription drugs nearly doubled. (Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2011)

Young adults are not the only population of prescription drug abusers that has continued to increase over the years. In 2008, the Department of Defense reported that one in nine active-duty service members reported prescription drug abuse. (Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2011) A study done by the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that “approximately two million adults age 50 and older used prescription-type drugs non-medically in the past year.” (Executive Office of the President of the United States, 2011) As you can see, the prescription drug abuse problem is not limited to a specific population. It effects people throughout their lifetime. Newspaper Article

A recent article in the Boston Globe called “Antidote offers addicts’ families sliver of comfort: Nasal spray credited with reversing more than 1,800 drug...
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