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Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse is the inappropriate use of prescription drugs by individuals obtained through illegal or inappropriate means. Commonly called "doctor shopping", e-prescribing is touted to have the means to identify such abuse although with serious concerns over health care privacy.

Teenage drug abuse is of increasing concern in the United States but also around the world. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) 2009 survey reports that the non-medical use of Vicodin is 1 in 10 among high school seniors and 1 in 20 reported abuse of OxyContin. Over half of these seniors bought the drug from a friend or relative. The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is reporting widespread problems of prescription drug abuse in other countries and expressed concerns about the easy availability of "date rape" drugs.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 9.1% of teens aged 12–17 misused prescription drugs in 2005. For 12–13 year-olds, prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs. The Monitoring the Future Study reports on various trends, including prescription drug abuse. Funding is from the National Institute on Drug Abuse which is part of the US National Institutes of Health. Drug abuse and alcohol usage among teens is on the upswing in the US according to the 2009 Partnership Attitude Tracking Study.11 As a result, hospitalizations umped 65 percent from 1999 to 2006 for poisoning by prescription opioids, sedatives and tranquilizers.12

Common Abused Drugs

  1. Alprazolam (Xanax)
  2. Hydrocodone (Vicodin, Lorcet, Lortab)
  3. Benzodiazepines (various depressants)
  4. Oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan, Tylox)

Teen Drug Abuse of Prescription Drugs - Fast Facts

  • 15% of high school seniors abuse codeine-based painkillers14
  • 20% of teens admit lending a prescription drug to a friend15
  • 2009 non-medical use of prescription medications among teenagers shows nearly 1 in 10 high school seniors reported non-medical use of Vicodin; 1 in 20 reported abuse of OxyContin.16
  • Seven of the top 11 drugs abused by teens were either prescribed or purchased over the counter17
  • 1 in 5 US high school students knowingly misuse prescription drugs18

Profile of Prescription Drug Abusers

It is not just teenagers who struggle with prescription drug abuse. Athletes may develop dependencies as they go through pain management regimens for injuries. A case going through the courts of a former assistant USC football coach shows that he got prescriptions from at least 31 doctors for medications like Vicodin, Xanax, Valium, Darvocet, Percocet, Lorazepam (Ativan), Dilaudid, Norco, Soma, Oxymorphone hydrochloride (Opana), Clonazepam (Klonopin), and Tramadol.19

Corey Haim struggled with prescription drug abuse and reportedly had filled prescriptions for thousands of pills before his death.20 However, his death was ruled related to pneumonia although he had "low levels" of an antidepressant (Prozac), an antipsychotic (Olanzapine), diazepam (Valium), a muscle relaxer (Carisoprodol), a tranquilizer (meprobamate) and THC (a chemical in marijuana) as reported in CNN.21

Operation Cotton Candy in Virginia has snared many involved in doctor shopping and the sale/procurement of prescription drugs including a grandmother.22

Pain Management Clinics (aka Pill Mills)

Most doctors do their best to prevent prescription drug abuse but one doctor in the Los Angeles area plead guilty to one count of dispensing oxycodone without a legitimate medical purpose. He apparently ordered more than 1 million tablets of hydrocodone in 2008 that he would subsequently sale.23 He received only a 48 month sentence despite 890,296 of his ordered pills are unaccounted for.24 In contrast, a drug dealer who sold as little as 5 grams would receive a mandatory five years in prison. Federal prosecutors estimated these pills were the equivalent of 50 kilograms of cocaine.

The following draws from the Time Magazine article called "Florida Pain Clinics: Pill Mills for Oxycontin Abuse"

Pill mills under the guise of pain management clinics have become popular in Broward County, Florida. 18 of the top 25 doctors dispensing Oxycontin in the USA are based in Broward County. South Florida now has 176 pill mills including the 115 in Broward County. Prescription drug related deaths in South Florida are over 10 per day. 

Street Prices

The street value of an 80-milligram OxyContin pill in Northern Virginia is currently $65-$75.25 There are now pill mills that dispense OxyContin in their pain management clinics.

Prescription drugs worth millions to dealers (Money June 2011) reports:

-Oxycontin: $50 to $80 on the street, vs. $6 retail price at pharmacy

-Oxycodone: $12 to $40 on the street, vs. $6

-Hydrocodone: $5 to $20 vs. $1.50

-Percocet: $10 to $15 vs. $6

-Vicodin: $5 to $25 vs. $1.50