Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics, Facts and Prevalence

Unveiling troubling statistics on prescription drug abuse, revealing its prevalence and the consequences it poses.

Leora BH Staff
December 5, 2023

The Scope of Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse has become a significant public health concern, affecting individuals across various demographics. Understanding the nature and extent of this problem is crucial in addressing and preventing its harmful consequences. In this section, we will delve into the concept of prescription drug abuse and highlight the growing scope of this issue.

Alarming Statistics on Prescription Drug Abuse

  1. Prescription drug abuse is responsible for an estimated 18,000 deaths per year in the United States alone.
  2. In 2018, an estimated 10.3 million Americans aged 12 or older misused opioids at least once in the past year.
  3. Nearly one-third of people who use prescription opioids for non-medical reasons also report using benzodiazepines or other central nervous system depressants.
  4. The rate of opioid-related hospitalizations in the United States nearly doubled between 2005 and 2014.
  5. Studies suggest that up to 29% of people prescribed opioids for chronic pain may misuse them.
  6. Men are more likely than women to die from prescription opioid overdoses, but the gap has been narrowing in recent years.
  7. In Canada, there were over 14,000 apparent opioid-related deaths between January 2016 and December 2019.
  8. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of benzodiazepine-related overdose deaths in the United States increased by 45%.
  9. A study of college students found that over half of those who misused prescription drugs obtained them from a friend or relative for free.
  10. In the United Kingdom, prescriptions for benzodiazepines and "Z-drugs" (sleeping pills) increased by 30% between 2008 and 2018.

Understanding Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse refers to the misuse or inappropriate use of prescription medications, including opioids, stimulants, and sedatives. It involves taking these medications without a valid prescription, taking them in higher doses than prescribed, or using them for non-medical purposes.

Prescription drugs are intended to treat specific medical conditions, and when used as prescribed, they can be highly beneficial. However, when they are misused, the potential for addiction, dependence, and health complications greatly increases. It is important to recognize the signs of prescription drug abuse to intervene early and provide appropriate support.

The Growing Problem

Prescription drug abuse has seen a concerning rise in recent years, leading to significant public health implications. The accessibility and availability of prescription medications, combined with various social and economic factors, have contributed to the growth of this problem.

To grasp the scale of prescription drug abuse, let's explore some statistics:

  • Number of Americans who misuse prescription drugs: 18 million
  • Percentage of Americans aged 12 and older who misuse prescription drugs: 6.9%
  • Percentage of drug overdose deaths involving prescription drugs: 48.8%
  • Number of emergency department visits related to prescription drug misuse or abuse: 1.5 million

In the US, 18 million people misuse prescription drugs. That's 6.9% of Americans aged 12 or older. Almost half of all drug overdose deaths involve prescription drugs. And 1.5 million emergency department visits are related to prescription drug misuse or abuse.

These statistics highlight the magnitude of the issue and emphasize the need for effective prevention strategies, treatment options, and support systems.

Understanding the scope of prescription drug abuse is an essential step in combating this problem. By raising awareness, implementing preventive measures, and offering adequate support, we can work towards reducing the prevalence and consequences associated with prescription drug abuse.

Prevalence of Prescription Drug Abuse

The prevalence of prescription drug abuse is alarming. According to recent studies, approximately 18 million Americans misuse prescription drugs at least once in a year. This accounts for nearly 7% of the population aged 12 and older. The misuse of prescription drugs includes using medication without a prescription, taking larger doses than prescribed, or using medication for non-medical purposes.

Prescription drug abuse is not limited to a specific age group or demographic. It affects individuals across various age ranges, socioeconomic backgrounds, and geographic locations. The misuse of prescription drugs is prevalent among teenagers, adults, and even older adults. It is crucial to recognize the signs of prescription drug abuse to identify and intervene in cases where individuals may be at risk.

Demographics and Risk Factors

Certain demographic factors contribute to the risk of prescription drug abuse. Some key demographic groups that have shown higher rates of prescription drug abuse include:

  1. Age group: Young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have consistently shown higher rates of prescription drug abuse than other age groups. This is often attributed to factors such as peer pressure, easy access to prescription drugs, and a lack of awareness about the potential risks.
  2. Gender: Historically, men have had higher rates of prescription drug abuse. However, recent studies indicate that women are catching up, with rates of abuse increasing in this demographic.
  3. Socioeconomic status: Prescription drug abuse can affect individuals from all socioeconomic backgrounds. However, individuals from lower-income households may face specific challenges due to limited access to healthcare and increased exposure to environmental stressors.
  4. Co-occurring mental health disorders: Individuals with mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, are more vulnerable to prescription drug abuse. The misuse of prescription drugs may be an attempt to self-medicate or alleviate symptoms.
  5. Previous substance abuse: Individuals with a history of substance abuse, including alcohol or illicit drug use, are at a higher risk of prescription drug abuse. The misuse of prescription drugs may serve as a substitute or an additional source of intoxication.

Understanding the demographics and risk factors associated with prescription drug abuse is crucial for developing targeted prevention and intervention strategies. By addressing these factors, healthcare professionals, educators, and policymakers can work together to combat the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and protect the well-being of individuals at risk.

In the next sections, we will delve deeper into specific types of prescription drugs that are commonly abused, including opioids, stimulants, and sedatives, along with their respective impact and consequences.

Prescription Opioid Abuse

Prescription opioid abuse has become a serious concern, leading to what is commonly known as the opioid epidemic. Opioids are a class of medications prescribed to manage pain, but their misuse and abuse have reached alarming levels. Understanding the impact and consequences of prescription opioid abuse is essential in addressing this growing public health crisis.

Opioid Epidemic: A Serious Concern

The opioid epidemic refers to the widespread misuse and abuse of prescription opioids, as well as illicit opioids such as heroin. It has become a major public health issue with devastating consequences. According to opioid abuse statistics, millions of people worldwide are affected by opioid abuse, and the numbers continue to rise.

Prescription opioids are highly addictive due to their ability to bind to opioid receptors in the brain, resulting in pain relief and feelings of euphoria. The accessibility and overprescribing of these medications have contributed to the epidemic. Many individuals initially start using prescription opioids for legitimate medical reasons but eventually develop an addiction.

Impact and Consequences

The impact of prescription opioid abuse extends far beyond individuals struggling with addiction. It affects families, communities, and society as a whole. Here are some key consequences associated with prescription opioid abuse:

  1. Overdose and Death: Prescription opioids are responsible for a significant number of drug overdose deaths. According to prescription drug overdose statistics, thousands of lives are lost each year due to opioid-related overdoses.
  2. Health Complications: Prolonged opioid abuse can lead to various health complications. These may include respiratory depression, constipation, hormonal imbalances, liver damage, and an increased risk of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
  3. Addiction and Dependence: Prescription opioids have a high potential for addiction and dependence. Continued use can lead to physical and psychological dependence, making it challenging to stop using the medication without professional help.
  4. Transition to Illicit Opioids: Individuals who develop an addiction to prescription opioids may eventually turn to illicit opioids, such as heroin, due to its lower cost and accessibility. This transition increases the risk of overdose and other negative consequences.
  5. Financial Burden: The economic impact of the opioid epidemic is substantial. It includes healthcare expenses for addiction treatment, increased healthcare utilization, lost productivity, and the strain on social services.

Addressing the opioid epidemic requires a comprehensive approach that includes prevention and education, improved access to addiction treatment and support options, and stricter regulations on opioid prescribing practices. By understanding the scope and consequences of prescription opioid abuse, we can work towards reducing its impact on individuals and communities.

Prescription Stimulant Abuse

Prescription stimulant medications, such as those prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), have therapeutic benefits when used as directed. However, misuse and abuse of these drugs have become a significant concern. Let's explore the misuse of stimulant medications and the consequences and risks associated with prescription stimulant abuse.

Misuse of Stimulant Medications

Stimulant medications, like amphetamines and methylphenidate, are commonly prescribed to individuals with ADHD. These medications work by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, helping to improve focus, attention, and impulse control. However, some individuals misuse these drugs for non-medical purposes, such as to enhance academic or athletic performance or to experience a euphoric high.

The misuse of stimulant medications often involves taking higher doses than prescribed, using them without a prescription, or using them in ways other than intended (e.g., crushing and snorting the pills). This misuse can lead to various short-term and long-term consequences.

Consequences and Risks

Prescription stimulant abuse can have a range of negative consequences and risks for those involved. Some of the key consequences and risks associated with the misuse of stimulant medications include:

  1. Physical and Psychological Effects: Misusing stimulant medications can lead to increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, insomnia, reduced appetite, and anxiety. Prolonged abuse may result in cardiovascular problems, malnutrition, and mental health issues.
  2. Addiction and Dependence: Stimulant medications have the potential for addiction and dependence. Continued misuse can lead to tolerance, where higher doses are needed to achieve the desired effects. This can further escalate into dependence, where individuals experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the drug.
  3. Academic and Occupational Consequences: While some individuals misuse stimulant medications to enhance academic or work performance, the long-term consequences can be detrimental. Dependence on these drugs can negatively impact academic performance, job stability, and overall functioning.
  4. Legal Consequences: Illicit use of prescription stimulants is illegal and can result in legal consequences. Possessing or distributing these drugs without a valid prescription can lead to criminal charges and legal penalties.

It's important to recognize the signs of prescription drug abuse and seek help if you or someone you know is struggling with stimulant misuse. Early intervention and treatment can prevent further harm and support recovery.

Understanding the consequences and risks associated with prescription stimulant abuse can help individuals make informed decisions about their health and well-being. If you suspect someone is misusing stimulant medications, encourage them to seek professional help and support.

Prescription Sedative Abuse

Prescription sedatives, such as benzodiazepines, are medications commonly prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia, and other sleep disorders. While these medications can be effective when used as directed, their misuse and abuse can have serious consequences. In this section, we will explore the issue of sedative misuse and dependence, as well as the health implications and dangers associated with prescription sedative abuse.

Sedative Misuse and Dependence

Sedatives slow down brain activity, creating a calming effect. Misusing sedatives can lead to tolerance and dependence. Abruptly stopping use can cause withdrawal symptoms. Seek medical guidance to discontinue use safely.

Health Implications and Dangers

Prescription sedative abuse poses various health implications and dangers. Some of the risks associated with sedative misuse include:

  • Respiratory depression: Sedatives can slow down breathing, especially when taken in high doses or combined with other substances like alcohol. This can lead to respiratory distress and even respiratory failure.
  • Cognitive impairment: Misuse of sedatives can impair cognitive function, affecting memory, concentration, and coordination. This can hinder daily activities and increase the risk of accidents.
  • Overdose: Taking excessive amounts of sedatives can result in an overdose, which can be life-threatening. According to prescription drug overdose statistics, sedative overdoses contribute to a significant number of emergency department visits and fatalities each year.
  • Interactions with other substances: Combining sedatives with other substances, including alcohol or opioids, can intensify their effects and increase the risk of adverse reactions.

Table: Sedative-Related Emergency Department Visits (United States, 2019)

Here's how many visits we had broken down by age group:

  • 12-17: 4,327 visits
  • 18-25: 14,526 visits
  • 26-34: 13,056 visits
  • 35 and over: 18,244 visits

To prevent prescription sedative abuse, it's important to raise awareness about the risks and provide information on prevention and education. Treatment options, including therapy and medication-assisted treatments, are available for those struggling with sedative abuse. Understanding the risks and consequences of abuse is essential for promoting safe and responsible medication use. If you suspect someone is struggling with sedative abuse, encourage them to seek professional help.

Addressing Prescription Drug Abuse

To combat the troubling statistics surrounding prescription drug abuse, it is crucial to focus on prevention, education, and providing effective treatment and support options. Addressing this issue requires a comprehensive approach to ensure the well-being and safety of individuals affected by prescription drug abuse.

Prevention and Education

Prevention and education play vital roles in addressing prescription drug abuse. By raising awareness and providing accurate information, we can empower individuals to make informed decisions regarding prescription medications. Key strategies for prevention and education include:

  1. Public Awareness Campaigns: Launching targeted campaigns to educate the general public about the risks associated with prescription drug abuse, the importance of proper medication use, and the potential consequences of misuse.
  2. School-based Programs: Implementing educational programs in schools that focus on the dangers of prescription drug abuse and equip students with the knowledge and skills to make healthy choices.
  3. Healthcare Provider Education: Ensuring that healthcare providers are educated about responsible prescribing practices, the signs of prescription drug abuse, and the appropriate interventions to address misuse.
  4. Safe Medication Disposal: Encouraging the safe disposal of unused or expired medications to prevent their misuse by others. This can be achieved through community take-back programs or proper disposal methods outlined by local authorities.

By promoting prevention and education initiatives, we can empower individuals to make informed decisions and reduce the incidence of prescription drug abuse.

Treatment and Support Options

For individuals who are already struggling with prescription drug abuse, access to effective treatment and support options is crucial. These options should be tailored to the unique needs of each individual and address the physical, psychological, and social aspects of addiction. Some key approaches include:

  1. Detoxification and Withdrawal Management: Providing medical supervision and support during the initial stages of recovery to manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure a safe detoxification process.
  2. Behavioral Therapies: Utilizing evidence-based therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or contingency management, to help individuals identify triggers, develop coping mechanisms, and modify behaviors associated with prescription drug abuse.
  3. Support Groups and Peer Support: Encouraging participation in support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous (NA), where individuals can connect with others who have similar experiences and receive ongoing support throughout their recovery journey.
  4. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT): In some cases, medication-assisted treatment may be recommended, particularly for opioid addiction. Medications such as methadone, buprenorphine, or naltrexone can help manage cravings and reduce the risk of relapse when used in conjunction with counseling and support.

It is essential to provide accessible and affordable treatment options, as well as remove barriers to seeking help, to ensure that individuals struggling with prescription drug abuse receive the support they need to overcome addiction.

By focusing on prevention, education, and providing effective treatment and support options, we can work towards reducing the troubling statistics on prescription drug abuse. With a collective effort from communities, healthcare providers, educators, and policymakers, we can make a positive impact and help individuals regain control of their lives.


Contact Us

Leora Behavioral Health offers a comprehensive addiction treatment program to help you get your life back on track. Our trained professionals will work with you to develop a personalized treatment plan that meets your unique needs. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, reach out to Leora Behavioral Health today.

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