Teens who abuse prescription drugs are more likely to abuse other drugs too, including heroin, according to studies. It has also been proved that adolescents, young adults and college students in the U.S. who abuse prescription drugs are more likely to indulge in heavy drinking, use marijuana, cocaine and other illicit drugs. In 2012, over 5 percent country population aged 12 or older was found to use opioid pain relievers non-medically.
As prescription drugs are considered safe by most people, the fact that it can be harmful and addictive when abused can be a challenging message to convey. According to an estimate, 26.4-36 million people abuse opioids across the world. In the United States alone, around 2.1 million people suffered from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012, while those addicted to heroin stood at about 467,000. Many studies show that increased non-medical use of opioids is directly proportional to heroin abuse in the country.
Who is at risk?
Data from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) suggests that prescription drug abuse is the highest among young adults between 18 and 25 years. The report notes that 3 percent of those aged between 12 and 17 took to non-medical use of prescription medications in a month prior to the survey.
Another study by researchers at the New York University corroborates that three quarters of high school heroin users took prescription opioids before trying the more addictive illicit drug.
“As frequency of lifetime opioid use increased, so did the odds for reporting heroin use, with over three-quarters of heroin users reporting lifetime nonmedical opioid use,” said Dr. Joseph J. Palamar, an associate professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, in a press release. “More frequent and more recent nonmedical opioid use was associated with increased odds for reporting heroin use,” he added.
In a study titled “Monitoring the Future,” researchers collected data from 67,822 students to analyze the association between frequency and recency of non-medical use of opioids and heroin. The findings revealed that 12.4 percent students used medical opioids and 1.2 percent used heroin for non-medical purposes. Of those who admitted to heroin use, 77.3 percent said they had also tried prescription opioids.
When a group of teenagers was surveyed to find out the method of procurement of prescription opioids for non-medical use, more than half of them said they were given the drugs by someone or they got it from a friend or a relative.
The most commonly abused opioid drugs included OxyContin, oxycodone, Percocet and other morphine-based drugs as these can be procured easily. Surprisingly, this problem is commonly seen in small towns, where teenagers find it easier to approach healthcare facilities for the drugs.
The way out
The problem of prescription drug abuse has acquired a proportion of an epidemic. Its spread can be checked through safe and informed prescribing practices and sensible prescribing guidelines by healthcare practitioners. With cities and states across the country taking steps to prevent prescription abuse, regularization of pain clinics and use of systems to identify fraudulent prescriptions have been initiated.
The widespread use of state-run drug monitoring programs offers useful information to healthcare providers that may improve patient safety. Such programs also enable patients to receive safe and effective pain treatments.
The prescription drug abuse problem is influenced by various factors, including increase in the number of prescriptions written and dispensed and aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies.
If you or a loved one is grappling with a prescription drug abuse, call the 24/7 Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline at 866-450-1557. One of our experts will help you find a treatment and detox program suited to your needs.