The Cold Hard Facts on Prescription Drug Abuse

prescription drug abuse

When most of us think of drug abuse, we think of “street drugs” such as heroin, cocaine and other narcotics. When we think of addiction, we think of snorting, huffing, smoking and needles. When we think of drug-related deaths, we may conjure an image of a crack-addict living on the street lying cold and lifeless. The reality however, is that more people overdose and die from the misuse of legal medications than of “street drugs.”


The Cold Hard Facts on Prescription Drug Abuse


Some have called the sudden increase in prescription drug abuse an epidemic. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “Since 1999, overdose deaths involving prescription painkillers have quadrupled.”

The National Institutes of Health report that as many as “20 percent of people in the United States have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons.” These numbers are not to be taken lightly, and many federal agencies such as the FDA and CDC are creating programs to raise awareness and curb the prescription drug abuse epidemic.


What is prescription drug abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is when a person takes the drug in amounts or within time periods not prescribed by the doctor. It also includes taking drugs that are prescribed for someone else. This includes over-using a prescribed medication. The prescription drugs most widely abused are narcotic painkillers, sedatives and stimulants.

Perhaps a person may think that because a medication is prescribed by a doctor that it is “safe.” However, a medication is only “safe” when taken within the strict parameters indicated by a doctor or pharmacist. Taking more medication than one is prescribed, taking a combination of medication without your doctor’s knowledge, or mixing prescription drugs with alcohol can all lead to overdoses and even death.

The Washington Post reported that “Nearly half a million emergency-department visits in 2009 were because of people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers, according to the CDC, while nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually.”


Prescription drug abuse and teens

When we think of prescription drug abuse, we often think of adults, but adults are not the only demographic abusing prescription drugs. Teens abuse prescription drugs to get “high.” In fact, the most common drug teens use to get “high,” after marijuana, is prescription drugs. The following facts regarding teens and prescription drugs are from rxsafetymatters.

  • More than 2,000 teens begin abusing prescription drugs each day.
  • Many kids believe prescription drugs are safer to abuse than illegal drugs.
  • 12-17-year-olds abuse prescription drugs more than ecstasy, heroin, crack/cocaine, and methamphetamines combined.
  • More than 70% of people 12 and older who abuse prescription drugs say they get them from a friend or relative.
  • As many as 1 in every 5 teens in America say they have taken a prescription drug that was not prescribed for them.
  • Two-thirds of teens who abuse prescription drugs did so before the age of 16.
  • 14% of teens (about 1 in 7) in a recent study reported using prescription pain relievers not prescribed for them in the past year, and 9% (about 1 in 11) reported doing so in the past month

For information on studies and sources visit

There are drug testing products available for worried parents. Click here for home drug test products that can be ordered one at a time or in bulk.


In the next blog, Part 2 of The Cold Hard Facts on Prescription Drug Abuse,

  • Learn the signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse
  • Diagnosing and treating prescription drug abuse

It is important to remember that some prescription drugs can be as addictive as any “street drug.” Having a strong support system is helpful in overcoming any kind of drug addiction.


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