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NIDA. (2005, September 9). NIDA Community Drug Alert Bulletin - Prescription Drugs. Retrieved from

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Letter from the Director

Friends, Colleagues, and Parents:

Prescription drug abuse is an emerging problem in our country, and one that is showing an increasing trend. What is most disturbing about this trend is that teenagers and young adults are counted among those who use these drugs nonmedically-which include prescription pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives, and tranquilizers.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA's) 2004 Monitoring the Future survey, 9.3 percent of 12th-graders reported using Vicodin without a prescription in the past year, and 5.0 percent reported using OxyContin. Another recent survey reports that approximately 48 million people-about 20 percent of the U.S. population-aged 12 or older had used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetimes.

Elderly persons are particularly vulnerable to prescription drug abuse and misuse; as a group, they are prescribed more medications than their younger counterparts, placing them at higher risk for misuse, dependence, and addiction.

Accessibility to the drugs is likely a contributing factor to this growing trend. More people are being prescribed medications today, for a variety of health reasons. This increase in prescriptions means more pills in our medicine cabinets. To add to this supply, many people also are obtaining medications illegally through Web sites that do not require a physician's prescription. While most online pharmacies are lawful businesses providing an important healthcare service, others, however, are not. In fact, some sites provide medications without proper identity verification.

Prescription drugs can have great medical benefits when taken under the supervision of a physician. However, their inappropriate use can lead to addiction. As a physician, I want to raise awareness in the healthcare community about the potential for prescription drug abuse. I also want to ask caretakers to safeguard their prescribed medications so that young people in their households do not have easy access to them.

NIDA is continuing to invest resources in researching this topic. We currently are testing medications for the treatment of prescription opioid abuse through our Clinical Trials Network. For more information on prescription drug abuse, as well as other drugs of abuse, please visit the NIDA Web site,, or call the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 1-800-729-6686. Sinc


Nora D. Volkow, M.D.