Is Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise?

Is prescription drug abuse more common today than it was 10 or 20 or 30 years ago? This question is actually difficult to answer and may need to be asked a different way. For example, if prescription drug abuse is measured by asking about use of separate drug classes or all together, or about different age or ethnicity groups, or about different time frames (i.e., in the past month or in the past year or ever), very different results will be reported. Different studies produce very different numbers.

Prescription Drug Abuse

In their article Longitudinal trajectories of non-medical use of prescription medication among middle and high school students, Boyd, Cranford, & McCabe (2016) noted that there are few longitudinal studies to help with conceptualizing changes in NUPM over time:

The few extant longitudinal studies of NUPM have yielded mixed results. For example, Catalano et al. (2011) assessed annual non-medical use of prescription opioids among adolescents from grade 10 to age 20 and found that NUPM prevalence peaked in grade 12. No linear trends in NUPM over time were observed and, while some continuity in NUPM from high school to young adulthood was evident, NUPM was less stable over time than marijuana and other drug use.

McCabe et al. (2014) examined non-medical use of prescription opioids in a sample of 18- to 23-year-olds using four waves of data from the Monitoring the Future (MTF) study. Results showed that the majority of those who reported any NUPM used only at one wave.

The extent to which NUPM differs by gender… and race/ethnicity… also remains unclear. Several studies have found higher rates of NUPM among females… although others found higher prevalence rates among males. (p. 259)

Is prescription drug abuse on the rise? The most reliable statistics available today suggest that it is relatively stable. This does not mean, however, that it is not a grave concern. Prescription drug misuse remains a public health concern because even as use flattens or declines, the number of deaths from overdoses and the number of admissions to substance use treatment involving opioids have increased. The prevalence estimates for opioid use disorders and high-frequency use have also increased.

The prevailing view not so long ago was that prescription drug abuse wasn’t as serious (as illegal drug abuse) because they were “safe” drugs.

Physicians were prescribing them, so therefore they weren’t seen as seriously abused or dangerous. However, substance abuse is substance abuse is substance abuse.

Today we know that prescription drugs can be just as addictive, dangerous, and deadly as their “street” counterparts when misused.

Course excerpt from Prescription Drug Abuse, a 3-hour online continuing education (CE) course that examines the misuse of prescription drugs (including opioids) in the United States.

Misuse of prescription drugs means “taking a medication in a manner or dose other than prescribed; taking someone else’s prescription, even if for a legitimate medical complaint such as pain; or taking a medication to feel euphoria” and is a serious public health problem in the United States.

When taken as prescribed, medication can be of great benefit to a patient, helping reduce pain, save lives, and improve one’s overall quality of life. However, when individuals misuse their prescribed medications or take medications not prescribed to them, the consequences can be disastrous. Illicit drug use, including the misuse of prescription medications, affects the health and well-being of millions of Americans. Among other deleterious effects, cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis, and lung disease can all be affected by drug use. The important thing to remember is that the medications are not inherently bad in and of themselves – it is how people use (and abuse) them that creates a problem.

This course will discuss what drives people to abuse prescription drugs and how they obtain them; diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder; history and progression of prescription drug abuse, including types and classes of drugs used; and the cost of prescription drug abuse on addicts and non-addicts alike. The course will then review the sequence of treating individuals who have a prescription drug use disorder, including screening, assessment, diagnosis, treatment, and maintenance. Screening tools, assessment instruments, treatment programs, and evidence-based recommendations are included. Comorbidity between substance use disorder and mental disorders is also discussed.

Course 31-00 | 2018 | 50 pages | 20 posttest questions

This course is sponsored by Professional Development Resources, a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).

Target Audience: PsychologistsCounselorsSocial WorkersMarriage & Family Therapist (MFTs)Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs)Occupational Therapists (OTs)Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs)School Psychologists, and Teachers

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