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Drug Abuse Data

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

Prescription drug abuse is a dangerous risk that is highly addictive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2010 that approximately 100 Americans die every day from drug overdose. Prescription drugs were involved in more than 50 percent of the 38,300 overdose fatalities in 2010. Opioid pain relievers were the contributing drug in 16,600 fatalities in 2010.

Many people misunderstand the addictive nature of prescription drugs believing that because they are prescribed by physicians and furnished by pharmacies they are not dangerous. Many prescription drugs are as dangerous as illicit drugs and just as addictive. The extent of prescription drug abuse has made it a priority for national public health institutions including the White House.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines drug abuse as the use of prescription drugs in non-medical or non-conforming use. The epidemic of prescription drug abuse now ranks non-medical use of prescription drugs and over-the-counter drugs as the third most abused type of drug after marijuana and alcohol.

Abused prescriptions drugs fall into three categories:


  • Fentanyl (Duragesic)
  • Hydrocodone (Vicodin)
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Oxymorphone (Opana)
  • Propoxyphene (Darvon)
  • Hydromorphone (Dilaudid)
  • Meperidine (Demerol)
  • Diphenoxylate (Lomotil)

Central Nervous System Depressants:

  • Pentobarbital sodium (Nembutal)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)


  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta)
  • Amphetamines (Adderall)

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that almost 33 percent of persons aged 12 and older who used illegal drugs for the first time in 2009 started by using a prescription drug for non-medical purposes. Drugs are prescribed by physicians to provide medication therapy for suffering patients. They have a much lower chance of addiction if used according to the physician's directions and halted when indicated.

Some prescription drugs can be highly addictive and dangerous when mixed with other illicit drugs or alcohol. The abuse of prescription drugs among children 12 and over is alarming. These drugs are available in most household medicine cabinets, are easy to conceal and are also available on the black market, where the buyer never truly knows what he or she is purchasing.

How Opioids Affect the Brain

The use of opioid medications by physicians has grown tremendously since the 1990's. With an aging population, opioids are used to reduce chronic pain. They should not be used for any other purpose. Oxycontin and Hydrocodone are two of the most abused opioids. When opioids are mixed with alcohol or other drugs that attack the nervous systems, the result can be fatal.

How Depressants Affect the Brain

Xanax, Valium, Klonopin are examples of prescription depressants that are used and abused by millions of Americans. These drugs are used to treat sleep disorders, anxiety, and other conditions that aggravate the nervous systems. Because these drugs suppress the central nervous system (CNS), they are called depressants. CNS depressants affect the brain neuro-transmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), numbing the nervous system and causing drowsiness.

Other CNS depressants are used for anesthesia, including barbiturates Mebaral and Nembutal. These are powerful drugs used to treat seizures, insomnia and anxiety disorders. CNS depressants have a high rate of addiction and unsupervised withdrawal from continued use or abuse of these drugs can cause fatal results.

How Stimulants Affect the Brain

Stimulants stimulate the mind and body. The typical reaction is an increase in alertness, higher energy and greater focus. At the same time, stimulants increase heart rate and blood pressure, constrict blood vessels, increase blood sugar and affect the respiratory system. Stimulants are used to treat ADHD and ADD, depression, narcolepsy and other psychological conditions.

The most abused prescription drug is Adderal, but other common stimulants are Ritalin, Dexedrine and Concerta. When these drugs are taken for non-medical purposes and in larger than prescribed doses, they are very dangerous. Irregular heart rates and high body temperatures are common signs of abuse of stimulants.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports the following prescription drug abuse statistics for American 12th grade students in 2013.

  • Any Prescription Drug - Past Year - 15.00 percent
  • Amphetamine - Past Year - 8.70 percent
  • Adderall - Past Year - 7.40 percent
  • Ritalin - Past Year - 2.30 percent
  • Narcotics other than Heroin - Past Year - 7.10 percent
  • OxyContin - Past Year - 3.60 percent
  • Tranquilizers - Past Year - 4.60 percent

Centers For Disease and Office of National Drug Control Policy

The Centers for Disease and Office of National Drug Control Policy, a division of the White House, has divided the prevention of prescription drug epidemic into four critical elements:

  • 1) Education – Government agencies will expand their reach to parents, youths and patients about the risks of prescription medications and prescription drug abuse.
  • 2) Monitoring – Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) will be implemented in every state. These units will reduce incidents of "doctor shopping" for new prescription and diversion. Prescription use data will be centralized and shared.
  • 3) Proper Medication Disposal – Environmentally friendly but stringent drug disposal programs will be implemented in order to decrease the spread of unused prescription drugs.
  • 4) Enforcement – The administration will enforce strict compliance with the prescription of opioids, prescription painkillers, stimulants and depressants that cause a risk to the population.

Treatment for Prescription Drug Abuse

There is a common misunderstanding about prescription drug abuse and prescription drug addiction. Addiction is a lifelong dependency with physical and psychological disorders. Prescription drug addiction cannot be cured but can be treated.

Due to the highly addictive qualities of these prescription drugs, drug abuse is most often a forerunner to addiction. It is important that people who abuse prescription drugs seek and enter treatment immediately. Hopefully, successful treatment will prevent relapse and avoid addiction.

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