Examining the Prescription Drug Epidemic

Given the large number of prescription drugs now available to patients and the widespread availability of prescription drugs, it is no wonder that prescription drug abuse is as pervasive of a problem as ever in the United States.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were about 7 million individuals using psychotherapeutic prescription drugs on a nonmedical basis; this equals about 2.7 percent of the population. Psychotherapeutic drugs, which are a class of drugs characterized as targeting the central nervous system, may include pain relievers, sedatives, stimulants, and tranquilizers, among others.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most commonly abused prescription drugs, in 2011, were pain relievers, as it is estimated that more than 5 million people in the United States were using them for non-medical purposes during this time. The next most commonly abused prescription drugs were tranquilizers, which were abused by 2.2 million people during the same period.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse further reported that nearly 1 in 12 high school students admitted to abusing Vicodin, and 1 in 20 students reported abusing oxycodone.

Factors Driving Use

There are a number of factors thought to drive the prevalence of prescription drugs:

  • Individuals assume that, because the medication is prescribed by doctors, that it is safe.
  • The availability of prescription drugs has skyrocketed in the last decade.
  • Individuals are reporting experiencing a higher number of maladies, such as pain, anxiety or sleep problems, thereby increasing the likelihood of abuse

The Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse

The dangers of abusing prescription drugs are numerous and prevalent. Opioids, for example, which are commonly used to treat pain, often act the same way as heroin and are therefore highly addictive. Anti-depressants, used to treat anxiety and sleep problems, are highly addictive and can cause severe withdrawal systems, including life-threatening seizures. Stimulants, which are commonly used to treat conditions such as narcolepsy and ADHD, may result in psychoses, cardiovascular complications, and seizures.