ATTENTION Practitioners! Prescription Drug Abuse Alert

PractitionersPrescription drug abuse is an increasing problem that endangers public health and safety. This is not about taking the wrong dose of medicine by mistake. This is about some patients purposely abusing prescription controlled substances, either their own or someone else’s, for non-medical purposes.

The federal Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which monitors drug-related emergency department (ED) visits nationwide, recently reported that the two most frequently mentioned prescription medications in drug abuse-related cases are benzodiazepines and opiates.

In 2004 (the most recent year for which complete information is available), benzodiazepines accounted for over 140,000 ED visits categorized as drug abuse related cases. During the same period, abuse of the opiates methadone, oxycodone and hydrocodone combined for more than 110,000 ED visits.

DAWN statistics also show that emergency room visits due to abuse of prescription drugs are more than the number of visits due to abuse of marijuana and heroin combined.

Teen Rx Drug Abuse Facts

  • 1.5 million American kids have reported that they’ve abused prescription drugs.
  • 2.1 million American kids have intentionally abused cough syrup. Every day 2,700 teens try a prescription medicine to get high for the first time.
  • Half of teens do not see a great risk in abusing prescription (Rx) or over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Teens believe that abuse of Rx and OTC medicines is safer than street drugs. Such drugs are easily accessible from home medicine cabinets and over the Internet.
  • Over half of teens agree prescription drugs are easier to get than illegal drugs.
  • 1 in 3 teens report having a close friend who abuses Rx pain relievers to get high.
  • 1 in 4 teens report having a close friend who abuses cough medicine to get high.
  • Only 31% of teens “learn a lot about the risk of drugs” from their parents.

What Can Healthcare Practitioners Do?

Most patients take prescription medications responsibly, as directed by their prescribers. However, practitioners must also be aware of the increasing problem with prescription drug abuse. Practitioners prescribing controlled substances can counsel patients to the danger posed by taking these medications in a way not directed for treatment or by combining them with other medications or alcohol. Practitioners can also counsel parents to secure their prescriptions, so that children are not tempted to experiment. And if prescription drugs are left over from a previous condition, patients should properly dispose of them afterward as soon as possible.

Commonly-Abused Prescription Medication

  • Narcotics. Also known as opiates. Prescribed to relieve pain. Examples include morphine (liquid Roxanol, MS Contin), oxycodone (Percocet, Percodan, OxyContin), hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lortab, Norco), methadone, fentanyl (Duragesic patch, Actiq lozenge) and hydromorphone (Dilaudid).
  • Depressants. Prescribed to treat anxiety, seizures and sleep disorders. Includes barbiturates and benzodiazepines. Examples are pentobarbital (Nembutal), diazepam (Valium), and alprazolam (Xanax).
  • Stimulants. Prescribed to treat attentiondeficit disorder (AD/HD). Examples include methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamine (Dexedrine, Adderall).
  • Anabolic Steroids. Prescribed to treat hormone deficiency in males and breast cancer in females. Examples include testosterone (Androgel, Androderm patch, Depo-testosterone, and Delatestryl injection), and stanazolol (Winstrol).