Do Prevention Programs Affect Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is a common phenomenon throughout much of the U.S. However, the specific rates of abuse can vary considerably between individual states. In a report published in July 2014, researchers from Quest Diagnostics examined the rates of prescription medication abuse across America and looked for underlying reasons that could explain why some states have substantially declining rates for such abuse while others have modestly declining, steady or even increasing rates. These researchers concluded that key factors in achieving significant reductions include extensive state-level prevention programs as well as supplemental efforts that support these programs.

About Prescription Drug Abuse

Public health experts commonly use the terms prescription drug abuse and prescription medication abuse to refer to any consumption of a doctor-issued medication that doesn’t follow established medical guidelines. If you have a valid prescription for a medication, you can participate in this form of abuse if you take more of the medication than your doctor has instructed, use the medication in an unintended fashion (e.g., turning a tablet into an injectable or inhalable powder) and/or use the medication for recreational purposes rather than for relief of legitimate symptoms. If you don’t have a valid prescription for a doctor-issued medication, any consumption of that medication constitutes abuse from a public health point of view. It’s important to note that addiction specialists sometimes used the word abuse in a different context. If you repeatedly misuse a medication, you can undergo disruptive changes in your behavior and lifestyle that warrant an official diagnosis of substance abuse. In this context, abusers must have specific symptoms that qualify them for such a diagnosis. Under current guidelines, diagnosable substance abuse is part of a more comprehensive condition called substance use disorder, which also covers symptoms of substance addiction.

Federal Figures on Prescription Drug Abuse

Every year, a federal agency called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses nationwide survey information to estimate how many people in the U.S. misuse a prescription medication. Four types of mind-altering medication are abused most often: opioid painkillers, tranquilizers, amphetamine- and non-amphetamine-based stimulants and tranquilizer relatives called sedatives. Misuse is fairly common among people who have prescriptions for these medications. However, rates of misuse for the total population are fairly low. By a wide margin, opioid painkillers serve as targets of misuse more often than tranquilizers, stimulants or tranquilizers.

Importance of Drug Use Prevention Programs

The findings from the Quest Diagnostics researchers were reported in a study called Prescription Drug Use in America: Diagnostic Insights Into Managing the Drug Epidemic. This nationwide project involved the analysis of a total of 1,409,037 anonymous urine drug samples in the years 2011, 2012 and 2013. These samples were obtained from people living in 46 of the 50 U.S. states, as well as from people living in the District of Columbia. The technicians reviewing the drug samples were tasked with identifying the possible misuse of a range of prescription medications, as well as the use of certain illicit or illegal drugs. The researchers concluded that, overall, likely incidents of prescription drug abuse declined by roughly 8 percent between 2011 and 2013. However, five states in particular — Georgia, New York, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee — accounted for a substantial portion of this decline. Within these states, prescription drug abuse fell by an average of almost 11 percent. In the remaining 41 states and the District of Columbia, the rate of abuse fell by an average of only 4.4 percent. Much of the decline in prescription medication abuse/misuse can be attributed to the implementation of state-level prevention programs that actively seek to deter inappropriate medication consumption. Forty-nine out of the 50 U.S. states (including the five states with sharply declining rates of abuse/misuse) have such a program in place or have taken steps to create a program in the near future. When the researchers analyzed the steps that Georgia, New York, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee took to achieve such promising results, they concluded that each of these states produces superior results by supplementing their comprehensive prevention programs with education programs for prescribing doctors, as well as well-organized public health campaigns that emphasize the dangers of prescription drug misuse.   The study’s authors note that even with recent declines, prescription misuse still probably occurs among slightly more than half of all Americans who use a doctor-issued medication.

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