Is Prescription Drug Abuse Still an Epidemic?

Is Prescription Drug Abuse Still an Epidemic?

The abuse of prescription drugs is a global problem

The abuse of prescription drugs is a global problem. A 2014 report from the UN News Centre reports that a United Nations panel found prescription drug abuse to drugs like Xanax to be a more significant issue than the abuse of illegal drugs in some of the countries it examined. The panel noted that the problem was especially severe in North America, the region with the highest drug-related mortality in the world. The United States government has acknowledged the extent of the challenge. The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy states that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic.

Prescription Drug Abuse Trends in the United States

In the United States drug use and abuse is monitored in several ways including through the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The most recent results, published in 2013 and reporting on 2012 trends, note the following about prescription drug abuse to drugs like Xanax.

  • The percentage of individuals who used prescription drugs nonmedically within the past month of survey response has been essentially unchanged from 2002 through 2012.
  • The rate of current use declined among youths age 12 to 17.
  • In 2012 the rate of current use among individuals age 18 to 25 was similar to the rates in 2010 and 2011.
  • Prescription drug abuse rates have risen for adults age 40-59 and declined for adults age 60-64.
  • About 7,900 people a day began abusing drugs in 2012. More than a quarter of them (26%) reported their first drug of abuse to be a prescription product, a rate second only to that of marijuana.

Legislative and Community Efforts to Curb Prescription Drug Abuse

Government and community organization have addressed the problem of prescription drug abuse in a number of ways. One approach is to enact pain clinic laws. The CDC notes that the prescription drug overdose epidemic is fueled by a small number of high-volume prescribers and that pain clinic laws are designed to police those that are prescribing inappropriately. Among U.S. states and the District of Columbia, 11 had a pain clinic law meeting CDC criteria as of July 2013.

Many states have also enacted prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). PDMPs help authorities monitor and track the writing and dispensing of prescription products. The CDC identifies three best practices for PDMPs and notes that of July 2013, eight states had a PDMP that met all three criteria, and 38 had a program that followed one or two of them. States continue to improve their PDMPs. A 2014 article in the Times Online reports on Pennsylvania’s efforts to expand its database and to make the data more easily accessible to doctors and pharmacies.

Another avenue for addressing the prescription drug abuse problem is to focus on limiting the supply of unused medications like Xanax. A 2014 article in the LaGrange news reports that in Troop County, Georgia, a prevention coalition set up a pill take-back drop-box at the Sheriff’s Office. The box is a way for people to safely discard any unused or expired medication, making it less available to those who might abuse it.

Unfortunately addressing one problem sometimes causes another. A 2014 article in the Oneida Daily Dispatch reported on a growing heroin problem in New York fueled by a crackdown on prescription painkiller abuse. Because prescription painkillers are chemically similar to heroin, people sometimes use them interchangeably. For this reason it is important that education, prevention and treatment efforts be broad. In Massachusetts the governor declared a public health emergency in response to the twin problems of heroin and prescription painkiller addiction. A WCVB report notes that the emergency order provides for first responders to carry the drug naloxone, which is used to treat overdose.

Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Programs

Many programs have been developed to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs among teenagers. A 2014 Duke University publication reported on a six-year study evaluating the effectiveness of four of them alone and in combination  The programs studied were the home-based program called Strengthening Families and the school-based programs Life Skills Training, Project Alert and All Stars. The study found the following:

  • Programs vary widely in effectiveness with some having no measurable effect and others producing significant change.
  • Pairing school-based programs with a home-based intervention yielded the greatest reduction in abuse rates. The most significant gains were seen from pairing the Life Skills and Strengthening Families programs. Strengthening Families in combination with the All Stars program also produced positive results.
  • The school-based programs Project Alert and All Stars were ineffective when used alone. Life Skills proved effective when used without home-based intervention and was among the most cost-effective programs studied.

We Can Help

If you or a loved one is addicted to a prescription drug like Xanax, we can help you find treatment. Our toll-free helpline is available 24 hours a day, so there is never a wrong time to call. We understand the issues and can help you understand your options. We can even check your insurance coverage for you if you wish, at no cost or obligation. There is life after addiction, and we can help you find it. Call today.

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