Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing problem in the United States. The 2016 National Study on Drug Use and Health reported that an estimated 28.6 million Americans age 12 and over used illicit drugs during the month prior to the study. That means roughly 1 in 10 people struggle with some level of substance use, including addiction to prescription drugs.1
When a person takes a prescription drug for a nonmedical reason, it can quickly lead to addiction and the need for drug treatment. In fact, 25 percent of people who misused prescription drugs by age 13 ended up with an addiction at some point in their life.2
Let’s take a closer look at the current prescription drug epidemic in the United States:
- In the US alone, an estimated 54 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime.3
- Most abused prescription drugs fall under four categories, based on the number of people who misuse the drug:
- Painkillers – 3.3 million users
- Tranquilizers – 2 million users
- Stimulants – 1.7 million users
- Sedatives – 0.5 million users1
- More people report using controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine combined. That puts prescription drugs second behind marijuana when it comes to illicit drug use.4
- Between 2006 and 2011, nonmedical use of Adderall and emergency room visits involving the drug increased significantly, while treatment visits stayed the same. Adderall misuse rose 67 percent, and ER visits went up 156 percent, with family and friends serving as the primary source. Young adults (age 18-25) made up 60 percent of those using Adderall for nonmedical reasons.5
- The number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent (from 8.1 million to 13.5 million) between 1996 and 2013, while the total quantity filled more than tripled. During this same time period, the overdose death rate for benzodiazepines more than quadrupled.6
- All 50 states have prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) that actively track in-state prescriptions.4
Prescription Painkillers and the Opioid Crisis
- The US makes up 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes approximately 80 percent of the world’s prescription opioid drugs.7
- Prescription opioid drugs contribute to 40 percent of all US opioid overdose deaths.8
- In 2016, more than 46 people died each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids.8
- Prescription opioid overdose rates are highest among people ages 25 to 54 years.8
- Overdose rates were higher among non-Hispanic whites and American Indians or Alaskan Natives.8
- Men are more likely to die from prescription opioid overdose, but the gap between men and women is decreasing.8
- Because of its cheaper price, heroin has become the drug of choice for many who are addicted to opioid pain relievers. Approximately three out of four new heroin users misused prescription opioids prior to using heroin.9
- More than half (53 percent) of prescription opioid users got their last painkillers from a friend or relative, with 40.4 percent paying nothing for the pills.1
Teens and Prescription Drug Use
- Many teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs because they are prescribed by a doctor.10
- The top three prescription drugs used by high school seniors in 2017 were: Adderall (5.5 percent), tranquilizers (4.7 percent) and prescription opioids (4.2 percent).11
- There’s been a significant decline in the misuse of prescription opioids among teens over the past 15 years. For example, Vicodin use among high school seniors dropped from 10.5 percent in 2003 to 2 percent in 2017.12
- Teens reported less availability to prescription painkillers in 2017, with only 35.8 percent of high school seniors saying they were easy to get versus 54 percent in 2010.12
Signs of Prescription Drug Addiction
If you or a loved one uses prescription painkillers or other habit-forming medications, knowing the signs of abuse can help prevent addiction. Some of these include:
- Becoming preoccupied with getting and using the drug13
- Needing a supply of the drug on hand at all times13
- Needing more of the drug to produce the same level of pain relief or symptom control13,14
- Engaging in dangerous activities, like driving, while under the influence of the drug14
- Participating in illegal behaviors, such as stealing, to get more of the drug14
- Changes in physical appearance, especially in the area of personal hygiene14
- Doctor shopping to get new prescriptions for the drug13,14
- Stealing drugs from relatives or friends or asking to use someone else’s prescription13,14
If you notice any of these symptoms in a loved one, or you think you might be developing a drug dependence, it’s time to do something about it.
Finding Help for Prescription Drug Abuse
These prescription drug abuse statistics show that the use of prescription medications for non-medical reasons is growing in America – and the effects are evident. If you or someone you love is addicted to prescription drugs, call our toll-free helpline now. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to answer your questions and help you find treatment.
1. Ahrnsbrak, Rebecca, et al. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, September 2017.
2. “Prescription Drug Abuse: Young People at Risk.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 7, 2012.
3. “What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, August 2016.
4. 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, October 2017.
5. “Adderall Misuse Rising Among Young Adults.” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, February 16, 2016.
6. Bachhuber, Marcus A, MD, MSHP, et al. “Increasing Benzodiazepine Prescriptions and Overdose Mortality in the United States, 1996–2013.” American Journal of Public Health, March 09, 2016.
7. Gusovsky, Dina. “Americans still lead the world in something: Use of highly addictive opioids.” CNBC, April 27, 2016.
8. “Prescription Opioid Overdose Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 1, 2017.
9. “Heroin Overdose Data.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, January 26, 2017.
10. Volk, Katherine. “Teen Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse.” SAMHSA, April 19, 2016.
11. “Monitoring the Future 2017 Survey Results.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 2017.
12. “Vaping popular among teens; opioid misuse at historic lows.”National Institute on Drug Abuse, December 14, 2017.
13. Robinson, Kara Mayer. “Painkillers: 7 Warning Signs of Addiction.” WebMD, October 9, 2017.
14. “Prescription Drug Abuse.” Mayo Clinic, Accessed January 9, 2018.
By Patti Richards