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Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics

One of the growing problems in the United States is prescription drug abuse. When you use prescription drugs for something other than their prescribed use, that's abuse - whether you do it one time or one hundred times. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that close to 20 percent of people (48 million) over the age of 12 in the U.S. have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.

According to research, one of the growing causes of the increasing incidence of prescription drug abuse is the availability of drugs. This makes it easier for abusers to "pharm" prescriptions drugs. This practice of taking handfuls of drugs from wherever possible is especially growing amongst the youth. 9.3 percent of 12th graders report that they used Vicodin without a prescription, and 5 percent report using OxyContin. And these are just two drugs. The most common targets are strong painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. But the use of tranquilizers is increasing as well.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that nearly 3 million teenagers and young adults (those aged 12 to 25) become new abusers of prescription drugs. 56 percent of the 6 million new prescription drug abusers were over the age of 18. Prescription drug abuse is rising amongst the elderly as well. Even though only 13 percent of the population, the elderly account for about 1/3 of the prescriptions, reports NIH. This lends itself to prescription drug abuse.


HHS also reports an increase in the amount of prescriptions filled for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). More than 20 million prescriptions are filled each year, an increase of more than 72 percent since 1995. In this case, it is feared that ADHD drugs are over-prescribed, since only 3 to 5 percent of school-age children have ADHD. These types of drugs are often used to "help" students focus on their studies to get ahead in school.

There are gender differences in who abuses prescription drugs as well. HHS reports that when looking at teenagers, girls are more likely than boys to abuse prescription drugs.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found that prescription drug abuse of stimulants led to 23 percent of them experience depression. Additionally, prescription drug abuse is linked with delinquent behavior and with experimenting with illegal drugs.

Prescription drug abuse can be damaging to the body, and even life threatening. The recent death of popular actor Heath Ledger due to an overdose of prescription drugs brought this issue into stark relief. NIH points out that emergency room visits due to prescription drug about are on the rise. Since 1990, mentions of tranquilizers by emergency departments have increased by 170 percent. For prescription pain relievers, emergency departments report a 450 percent increase in mentions. More than 200,000 visits to emergency rooms around the country each year are because of prescription drug abuse.

It is important to realize that just because something can be prescribe, doesn't mean it isn't dangerous. In fact, it's the perception of safety that makes prescription drug abuse so dangerous.