Prescription Drug Abuse Tied to Availability, Safety Myths

Prescription drugs are easy to obtain and people think they are safe to take — and this may be why more than five million Americans were abusing them during a typical month in 2009, according to a new study from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.The study found that more than 70% of those abusing prescription drugs obtained them from family or friends.

Fifty Americans a day die from overdosing on narcotic prescription painkillers, and 100 are admitted every day to emergency rooms for opioid overdoses. Americans account for 80% of the world’s supply of painkillers.

Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, presented the findings before a Senate subcommittee.

Agencies of the federal government could intervene to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs, including by sponsoring more “take back days” when people can turn over unused or expired drugs to collection spots. On the last “take back day,” the government collected 188 tons of these drugs. Other interventions would be federal electronic tracking of how the drugs are being prescribed. Right now individual states do the tracking, and their efforts are not coordinated.

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