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Cite this article

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

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What are the concerns?

A number of published reports indicate that prescription drug abuse is on the rise in the United States. According to the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.3 million Americans aged 12 and older have used prescription medications for nonmedical purposes in the prior 30 days.

An estimated -

  • 4.7 million used pain relievers
  • 1.8 million used tranquilizers
  • 1.2 million used stimulants
  • 0.3 million used sedatives

The number of new nonmedical users of pain relievers increased drastically-from 573,000 in 1990 to 2.5 million in 2000. Overall, men and women have roughly similar rates of nonmedical use of prescription drugs (an exception is found among 12-17-year-olds, with more females likely to abuse these drugs).

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which monitors drug mentions (medications and drugs of abuse) from emergency departments (EDs) across the Nation, recently reported that two of the most frequently mentioned prescription medications in drug abuse-related cases are benzodiazepines (e.g., Valium, Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan) and opioid pain relievers (e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and combinations that include these drugs). In 2002, benzodiazepines accounted for 100,784 ED visits categorized as drug abuse-related cases and opioid pain relievers accounted for more than 119,000. Between 1994 and 2002, ED reports of hydrocodone and oxycodone overdoses increased by 170 percent and 450 percent, respectively. While ED visits attributed to drug addiction have been increasing, suicide-related visits have remained stable since 1995.