Individuals of any age who have used illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, or heroin within the past year have a higher likelihood of abusing prescription pain relievers as well, according to a nationwide study by researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA).
Another study, recently released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows that the connection works both ways, as they found that heroin use is highest among those who have abused opioid pain relievers or cocaine within the past year.
Prescription pain relievers represent the majority of all prescription drugs that are abused in the U.S., and misuse has risen dramatically in recent years. The most over-used pain relievers are opioids, highly addictive painkillers such as codeine, oxycodone, and morphine.
Emergency room treatments for opioid misuse, including suicide attempts and accidental overdoses, have increased 183 percent from 2004 to 2011, according to a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In the UGA study, the researchers found that adults aged 50 and older are more likely to acquire pain relievers through more than one doctor, whereas younger individuals are more likely to obtain the drugs from friends, relatives, or drug dealers.
Their study was based on more than 13,000 responses to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The annual survey, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, collects data on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and mental health problems among individuals aged 12 and older.
The report also offers possible solutions to address the problem.
“If we know how people come to possess the pain relievers they misuse, we can design better ways to lower that likelihood,” said Dr. Orion Mowbray, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and the UGA study’s lead author. “This study gives us the knowledge we need to substantially reduce the opportunities for misuse.”
“Doctors may conduct higher quality conversations with older patients about the consequences of drug use before they make any prescription decisions, while families and friends should know about the substantial health risks before they supply a young person with a prescription pain reliever,” Mowbray said.
The researchers believe there needs to be greater coordination between medical care providers to reduce the possibility of over-prescription of painkillers as well as improvement in communication between doctors, patients and the public.
Source: University of Georgia