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Increased Prescription Drug Abuse Rates Creates Greater Demand for Prevention Efforts

Prescription drug abuse rate increasing

In 2010, Florida became the acknowledged epicenter of a criminal enterprise that distributed addictive painkiller prescriptions by the hundreds of thousands. According to the Florida Attorney General, pain management clinics numbered 900 that year, many of them existing only to rake in millions of dollars as they gave out as many pills as possible every day. Judging by the license plates on cars in the parking lots of these centers, “patients” were coming from the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states to acquire drugs they could take home and sell on the street.

Finally, the state changed the laws and Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of one of the most popular drugs of all OxyContin, reformulated the pill to make it much harder to abuse. Quickly, pain management clinics nicknamed “pill mills” began to disappear.

As painkillers became less available, those addicted began to discover heroin would keep them from suffering withdrawal sickness. And so, the migration from painkillers to heroin began.

Based on statistics from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, people who become addicted to painkillers are forty times more likely to abuse heroin. Thus as the overprescribing pill mills shut down, many people who had become addicted to pills found new drug dealers offering cartel-produced heroin, mostly from Mexico. The number of heroin users skyrocketed, with cartels responding by increasing the quantity of the heroin brought into the country and dropping the price.

Heroin and prescription painkillers are nearly the same chemicals. Heroin and morphine are opiates, products refined from resin that oozes from seed pods of opium poppies. Opioids are fully or partially-synthetic drugs chemically very close to heroin. Prescription drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, Fentanyl, Percocet, Demerol and Darvon are the most commonly prescribed opioid drugs.

The CDC reported that between 2007 and 2013, the number of people using heroin in the US increased 150%. The overdose deaths increased more than 400% over that same time period.

NIDA's graph on the national overdose deaths

Noting these staggering figures, officials at every level of government began trying to understand how prescription drug abuse starts and how best to prevent it. They started by surveying people to find out how they got started abusing painkillers. The majority of users surveyed under 18 said they were given a painkiller by someone they knew. The next highest initial exposure was from prescriptions given for valid dental or medical conditions. Teens who started their drug abuse early were found to have stolen their first pills from medicine cabinets. Many teenaged athletes have also become addicted to pain medication given to them after sports injuries.

These findings led to major prevention policy initiatives by federal, state and local agencies regarding prescription drug abuse education programs. Since the prescription abuse epidemic and its companion heroin epidemic showing no signs of slowing down, prevention and education has come to the forefront at all levels. Federal officials at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) are again pointing to prevention and education on opiates and opioid addiction as the number one way to slow or reverse these staggering trends.

The ONDCP recently stated “the simplest and most cost-effective way to lower the human and societal costs of drug abuse is to prevent it in the first place.” Similarly, the Director for the National Institute for Drug Abuse recently reported to Congress that if one can increase perception of risk in youth through education, drug use will drop.

In 2009, the Drug Enforcement Administration, in conjunction with local law enforcement officials, began local “take-back” programs in communities across the country. The basic premise was simple: collect unneeded prescription drugs and dispose of them properly so there are fewer in circulation to abuse. The DEA now sponsors two national Prescription Drug Take-back days each year to help empty medicine cabinets across the country.

Additionally, Narconon published the popular “Ten Things Your Friends May Not Know About Prescription Drugs” and started a successful national distribution. This hard-hitting, factual booklet gives parents, educators and kids simple facts on prescription drug abuse and prevention. Copies are available for download at

White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
National Institute for Drug Abuse
National Center for Health Statistics, CDC


Related article:

What is the Cost of Heroin Addiction?

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