Abuse & Misuse Dangers
Educate family and friends on abuse and misuse dangers
Prescription Drug Misuse & Abuse
Prescription drug abuse is the nation's fastest-growing drug problem, and it has been classified as an epidemic. Unfortunately, people of all ages are affected, as shown by several government studies. Being an informed consumer will help keep you and your family safe.
Learn more – click on the question below to find the related facts and to learn about prevention efforts.
- How many Americans are misusing and abusing prescription medications?
- What is the difference between misuse and abuse?
- How many teens and young adults abuse prescription medications and over-the-counter medications?
- Why are teens abusing prescription drugs?
- How are people obtaining illegal prescription drugs?
- What is the impact of prescription drug abuse on Americans?
- What is being done to help people avoid misuse and abuse, and prevent prescription drug addictions?
- What is being done to help ensure that patients receive the most appropriate and safest medication(s) and to help ensure that they are used correctly?
How many Americans are misusing and abusing prescription medications?
- Over 50% of prescription drug abusers got them from family or friends. “2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (September 2012).
- Over 67% of 12th graders who abused prescription narcotics, such as Vicodin® or OxyContin®, were given the drugs by a friend or relative. “2012 Monitoring the Future Survey,” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- 22% of 12th graders who abused prescription narcotics took the drugs from a friend or relative without asking. “2012 Monitoring the Future Survey,” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- In 2011, 6.1 million people aged 12 and older used prescription drugs non-medically. “Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (September 2012).
- The number of emergency department visits due to medication poisoning for children under age five increased 30% from 2001 to 2008, and child self-exposure to prescription products accounted for 55% of the emergency room visits. “The Growing Impact of Pediatric Pharmaceutical Poisoning,” The Journal of Pediatrics, (February 2011).
- Abuse of prescription pain medications is leading to an increase in opiate overdoses, but in the past opiate overdoses were most often due to heroin use. Abuse of prescription pain pills is a growing problem with a growing number of fatalities. “Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis” (PDF), Office of National Drug Control Policy, April 2011.
What is the difference between misuse and abuse?
- Prescription drug abuse is the use of a medication without a prescription, in a way other than as prescribed, or for the experience or feelings elicited, eg taking medication to “get high,” as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The abuse of certain prescription drugs – opioids, central nervous system depressants, and stimulants – can lead to a variety of adverse health effects, including addiction.
- Food and Drug Administration explains that the difference between abuse and misuse has to do with the individual’s intentions or motivations. For example, when a person takes a prescription drug to get a pleasant or euphoric feeling (ie, to “get high”), especially at higher doses than prescribed, that is an example of drug abuse.
According to FDA, prescription drug misuse may involve not following medical instructions, but the person taking the drug is not looking to “get high.” For example, if a person isn’t able to fall asleep after taking a single sleeping pill, they may take another pill an hour later, thinking, “That will do the job.” Or a person may offer his headache medication to a friend who is in pain. According to FDA, those are examples of drug misuse because the person is trying to treat a condition or symptom, but not according to the directions of a health care provider. FDA stresses that both misuse and abuse of prescription drugs can be harmful and even life threatening to the individual. This is because taking a drug other than the way it is prescribed can lead to dangerous outcomes that the person may not anticipate.
- According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, prescription drug misuse can include:
- Taking the incorrect dose
- Taking a dose at the wrong time
- Forgetting to take a dose
- Stopping medicine too soon
How many teens and young adults abuse prescription and over-the-counter medications?
- Nearly 15% of all United States high school students have misused prescription controlled substance drugs. Almost half of all high school students are current users of addictive substances - primarily alcohol, but also cigarettes, marijuana, and prescription drugs - and of these, one in three is addicted. “Adolescent Substance Use: America's #1 Public Health Problem,” from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (June 2011).
- 1 in every 16 high school seniors abuse cold medicine—see the AWARxE YouTube Channel for additional public service announcements and share the videos with a friend.
- “Every day, 2,500 youth (12-17) abuse a prescription pain reliever for the very first time.”
- “In 2006, about 3.1 million people aged 12 to 25 had ever used an OTC cough and cold medication to get high, and nearly one million had done so in the past year.” “Prescription for Danger: A report on the troubling trend of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse among the nation’s teens” (PDF) from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (January 2008)
- Among 12 and 13 year olds who abuse drugs, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused.
- Among young adults aged 18-25, abuse of prescription drugs is second only to abuse of marijuana. “Results from the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health,” from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (September 2012).
- Among people 18-22 years old, full-time college students were twice as likely to use a stimulant, such as Adderall®, for non-medical reasons in the past year compared with those who aren’t in college or are part-time students. “Nonmedical Use of Adderall among Full-Time College Students,”The NSDUH Report, from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (April 2009).
Why are teens abusing prescription drugs?
- In surveys conducted by the Partnership at Drugfree.org, teens reported that they used prescription drugs to help them deal with problems, manage their lives, lower stress, and enhance performance, as well as to get high. “Preventing Teen Abuse of Prescription Drugs,” from The Partnership at Drugfree.org (2010).
- “Almost a third (32%) of teens say they abuse prescription painkillers because they believe there are fewer side effects than street drugs.” “Prescription for Danger: A report on the troubling trend of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse among the nation’s teens,” (PDF) from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (January 2008)
- Most eighth-grade students perceive regular marijuana use and occasional heroin use as a great risk, but less than 36% see occasional nonmedical use of Vicodin® or OxyContin® as a great risk. “2012 Monitoring the Future Survey,” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
- “Pharm parties” are quickly becoming popular in many high schools. Prescription drugs, or “pilz,” are dumped in a bowl and taken by the handful resulting in many different possible drug-drug interactions and overdoses. “Prescription Drug Abuse,” from North Dakota State University College of Pharmacy students, available on the AWARXE Get Local North Dakota page.
How are people obtaining illegal prescription drugs?
- “More than three in five teens say prescription pain relievers are easy to get from parent’s medicine cabinet…” “Prescription for Danger: A report on the troubling trend of prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse among the nation’s teens” (PDF) from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (January 2008)
- One in four grandparents indicate that they leave medications in places that children and teens can easily access. For example, they may place pills in daily dose boxes that are not stored out of children's reach--this situation puts children at risk for accidental ingestion, and also makes pills easily accessible to teens and visitors. "Easy-Access Medications a Poisoning Risk for Kids at Home” from C.S. Mott’s Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.
- 88% of the over 10,000 Internet sites reviewed by NABP do not require a valid prescription. “Buying Medicine Online” from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
- Some people obtain prescription drugs from illegally operating pain clinics, commonly known as “pill mills.” According to the Palm Beach County, Florida Sheriff’s Office, overdoses associated with illegal pain clinics have killed more people in the county than homicides, traffic crashes, or suicides for at least four years. Similar problems with pill mills are reported in several states including Ohio, Texas, Georgia, and Louisiana. “Shutting Down Illegal Pain Clinics: New State Legislation to Support Multifaceted Efforts,” August 2011 NABP Newsletter, pages 144-145, 149.
- People who become addicted to prescription drugs may engage in "doctor shopping," that is, moving from doctor to doctor in an effort to obtain multiple prescriptions for the drug(s) they abuse. “Preventing and Recognizing Prescription Drug Abuse,” from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
What is the impact of prescription drug abuse on Americans?
- Every year, nearly 15,000 people die from overdoses of prescription painkillers. “Prescription Painkiller Overdoses in the U.S.” Web page, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- In 2009, 1.2 million emergency department visits were related to misuse or abuse of prescription drugs, compared with 1 million visits related to use of illicit drugs such as heroin and cocaine. “Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers - United States, 1999-2008,” Vital Signs, November 4, 2011, CDC.
- The number of emergency department visits due to misuse or abuse of prescription drugs has risen 98.4% since 2004. “Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers - United States, 1999-2008,” Vital Signs, November 4, 2011, CDC.
What is being done to help people avoid misuse and abuse, and prevent prescription drug addictions?
The White House plan to fight prescription drug abuse, Epidemic: Responding to America’s Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis (PDF), emphasizes that education of parents, youth, patients, and health care providers is “a crucial first step in tackling the problem of prescription drug abuse.” Many programs and government agencies are working to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse and how to help prevent it:
- AWARXE, a consumer protection program, maintains AWARERX.ORG as an information source providing authoritative resources about medication safety, prescription drug abuse, medication disposal, and safely buying medications on the Internet. AWARXE also participates in consumer expos, middle school educational campaigns, and other outreach efforts to educate consumers about preventing drug misuse and abuse.
- KnowYourDose.org provides information on taking the correct dosage of acetaminophen to avoid an overdose that can lead to liver damage.
- Medicines in My Home, an FDA initiative, provides a multimedia educational program developed to teach consumers how to choose over-the-counter medicines and how to use them safely.
- PEERx, is an online initiative developed by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, to educate 13-15 year olds on the dangers of prescription drug abuse. The program offers an interactive video; an activity guide with step-by-step instructions to help teens organize peers in their school or community group; relevant posts from NIDA’s Sara Bellum Blog; free downloads; and fact sheets.
- Use Medicines Wisely, an FDA initiative that aims to educate women about safe medicine use, provides videos, a medications record-keeper, fact sheets, and other safe medication use resources.
- Local efforts: Pharmacy organizations, student groups, and community groups across the nation have initiated educational programs and other events aimed to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug misuse and abuse. Click on Get Local and browse the state pages to learn more.
- Local Medication Disposal Programs and Drug Take-Back Events: Drug take-back programs provide consumers with a safe and legal means for disposing of unused, unneeded, and expired prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Getting unneeded medications out of the home can help prevent misuse and abuse. Drug take-back locations are available in some states and communities, as are regularly scheduled drug take-back events. Some of these drop-off events cannot accept controlled substances (see definition and examples below), so check ahead to learn which medications you may return.
- DEA National Drug Take-Back Days. DEA has coordinated five nationwide drug take-back days thus far, with the first four bringing in 2 million pounds (1,018 tons) of unwanted medication. At these events, DEA take-back sites allowed people to drop off unused prescription drugs, including controlled substances, for proper disposal. Proper disposal of these unwanted medications, helped to prevent drug misuse, abuse, and diversion.
What is being done to help ensure that patients receive the most appropriate and safest medication(s) and to help ensure that they are used correctly?
Tools for Providers
- Prescription monitoring programs (PMPs) assist health care providers in making better informed treatment decisions for patients. A state PMP is a secure database maintained by a state agency that stores information on prescriptions for controlled substance medications or drugs of concern. Depending upon state laws, certain authorized users, such as doctors and pharmacists, may view PMP data so that they have complete information on a patient’s medication history. That information assists doctors and pharmacists in making prescribing and dispensing decisions. Such data can allow health care providers to
- choose the best possible drug therapy for a patient;
- determine any potential adverse drug reactions;
- determine potential drug to drug interactions or allergic reactions; and
- if needed, identify and offer help to patients who may be misusing or abusing medications.
- NABP PMP InterConnectSM: PMP programs are run by states agencies, collecting prescription data only from their state. The NABP PMP InterConnect provides a way for state systems to share data, so that authorized users, such as health care providers, can potentially access complete patient data from all states where the patient has had prescriptions filled. For example, if a patient in Ohio travels to Indiana and needs to have a prescription filled, the pharmacist in Indiana can see records from both states by using the NABP InterConnect. The information reported back from both states can help that pharmacist make decisions about dispensing that are in the best interest of the patient’s health and safety. By facilitating data sharing among state PMPs, NABP InterConnect helps enhance patient care.