More than a million Americans abuse prescription drugs

04/20/04

Nearly 1.3 million Americans 12 and older abuse prescription drugs and require treatment for their problem, a new study concludes.

Older adults, women, individuals in poor health and those who drink alcohol daily are most likely to develop a prescription drug habit, according to Linda Simoni-Wastila, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and colleagues. Their findings appear in the American Journal of Public Health.

The researchers did not find a link between prescription drug abuse and use of illegal drugs like marijuana or cocaine.

"Although other studies have linked nonmedical drug use to illicit drug use, our findings suggest that problem use of narcotics, sedative hypnotics and tranquilizers occurs in the absence of illicit drug taking," Simoni-Wastila and colleagues say.

Simoni-Wastila and colleagues calculated the number of prescription drug abusers using data from the 1991-1993 National Household Surveys on Drug Abuse. The surveys indicate that more than 8.2 million people, or 4 percent of the U.S. population, have used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in the past year.

People who used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes were considered problem users if they had at least two symptoms of abuse, including the inability to cut down on drug use or needing larger amounts of the drug, withdrawal symptoms, or use of the prescription drug in the past month and being depressed, upset or unable to think clearly.

Women, unmarried adults and those age 35 and older were more likely than others to be problem users of narcotic painkillers like codeine and morphine, the researchers found.

Women and white individuals, along with daily drinkers and those in poor or fair health were more likely to abuse tranquilizers like Xanax or valium. People in poor health were more likely to use barbiturates like Seconal and Quaaludes, while people making less than $40,000 a year were less likely to abuse barbiturates.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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