Increasing Abuse Of Prescription Pain Relievers

The nonmedical use of pain relievers has become an increasing problem, with use of prescription pain relievers second only to marijuana in 2008 for illegal drug use.

The Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) collects information about the primary substance of abuse when individuals are admitted to treatment facilities. A report from TEDS data compares characteristics of admissions related to primary use of prescription pain relievers, from 1998 and 2008.

The use of prescription pain relievers outside of the directions given by a doctor can be dangerous. Pain relievers such as hydrocodone or Vicodin, and oxycodone or Oxycontin can quickly become addictive and early intervention is very important. Using the reports from the TEDS, programs can be developed to provide effective prevention and treatment options.

The report details how the number of admissions for pain reliever abuse has changed over a decade. In 1998, a total of 18,300 admissions were reported as primary pain reliever abuse, representing 1.1% of all admissions to treatment facilities. In 2008, there was an increase to 105,680 admissions for pain reliever abuse, representing 5.6% of admissions to treatment facilities.

The age at which admissions occurred declined from 1998 to 2008. The average age decreased by nearly six years, from 37.4 years in 1998 to 31.7 years in 2008. The average age for other types of treatment admissions increased during this time period, from 33.5 years to 34.6 years. The significant difference in the ages is largely derived from a growth in admissions in the 18 to 34 age group.

Primary pain reliever admissions in 1998 were equally male and female, while in 2008 there was a slightly higher percentage of male admissions. The admissions are mostly non-Hispanic Whites, growing from 85.1% of admissions in 1998 to 88.7% of admissions in 2008. Admissions were more likely to be unemployed in 2008 than in 1998, and the average educational level of admissions also decreased, from 35.6% having some education beyond high school in 1998 to 29.4% in 2008.

The admissions for pain reliever abuse differed by region. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of admissions in the Northeast grew from about one in four admissions to more than one in three in 2008. The number of pain reliever admissions decreased in the other regions.

The percentage of admissions with prior treatment episodes increased from 34.9% to 42.1% over the 10 year period. The admissions that had been in treatment three or more times previously decreased from 25.5% to 20.1%.

The findings of the TEDS report indicate a growing need for addition prevention efforts to discourage prescription pain reliever abuse. There are several simple steps that occur at the individual level that may be very effective at reducing the number of admissions for prescription pain reliever abuse.

Doctors may seek an opportunity to discuss with patients the high risk for dependence on pain relievers when prescriptions are issued to a patient, including information about the danger of sharing medications with friends or family members. Parents can also be educated about the potential problem and encouraged to keep watch over medications and talk with the teens and young adults in the households about the potential consequences of misuse of pain relief medications.

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