Prescription Drug Abuse in the USA

Some key findings from the Council of State Governments study on Prescription Drug Abuse in America (from 2004). The report is obviously a bit outdated but the problem continues to grow.

  • More than 6.2 million people were current illicit users of prescription drugs in 2002.
  • In 2001, prescription drug abuse and misuse were estimated to impose approximately $100 billion annually in health care costs.
  • In Florida, there were 328 deaths attributed to heroin overdoses in 2001 compared to 957 deaths due to overdoses of the prescription pain medications. The trend continued in 2002, when more Floridians died from prescription drug overdoses than use of illegal drugs.

Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction from the NIH (revised in 2011).

Although most people take prescription medications responsibly, an estimated 52 million people (20 percent of those aged 12 and older) have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetimes.

The number of prescriptions for some of these medications has increased dramatically since the early 1990s. Moreover, a consumer culture amenable to “taking a pill for what ails you” and the perception of prescription drugs as less harmful than illicit drugs are other likely contributors to the problem. It is an urgent one: unintentional overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers have quadrupled since 1999, and by 2007, outnumbered those involving heroin and cocaine.

Years of research have shown that addiction to any drug (illicit or prescribed) is a brain disease that can be treated effectively. Treatment must take into account the type of drug used and the needs of the individual. Successful treatment may need to incorporate several components, including detoxification, counseling, and sometimes the use of addiction medications. Multiple courses of treatment may be needed for the patient to make a full recovery.

Related: How effective is drug addiction treatment?Center for substance abuse treatment (US HHS)Brett Favre overcomes painkiller addiction