Prescription Drug Abuse Across the U.S.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and medical centers across the nation have termed the abuse of prescription medications in our country an epidemic. As such, the problem of prescription drug abuse demands national attention and a coordinated response.

However, in order to craft appropriate measures, it is important to have data that shows where the abuse is most problematic and at what age populations those measures need to be targeted. A recent report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides just that kind of data.

The SAMHSA report is founded on information gathered through its annual National Survey on Drug Use. This year the study asked 67,500 individuals, age 12 and older, to self-report on their use of prescription drugs, with particular attention given to abuse of prescription painkillers. By comparing studies over recent years, national trends in prescription drug abuse become clear. Although the problem remains serious, it ranks right behind marijuana use in terms of prevalence; the report did have some hopeful news to share.

According to the SAMHSA report, when you look at 2010 and 2011 data together, the abuse of prescription painkillers is a problem for 4.6 percent of the population above the age of 12. Viewed through the long-angle lens, 22 million Americans have been involved in prescription drug abuse since 2002. However, recent data shows that the problem is not as bad everywhere in the country as it once was. In fact, some regions have even seen a decline in abuse.

The national drug survey found that seven out of ten states where the problem is worst are western states. Western states which still face considerable prescription drug abuse problems are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington. On the upside, 10 states have witnessed a drop in prescription drug abuse. Those states include West Virginia, Rhode Island, Ohio, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, New York, Mississippi, Massachusetts, Louisiana and Kentucky. So, in the west the problem persists but in the east and some areas of the south, the problem is waning.

That progress is encouraging. However, as late as November of 2012 medical institutions have continued to publicly decry the issue showing that much remains yet to be done. The recent SAMHSA report which shows where the problem is most firmly entrenched should prove helpful in determining where to target our nation’s strongest prevention and intervention efforts. Program’s like SAMHSA’s Prevention of Prescription Abuse in the Workplace could be concentrated in western states along with the others where the problem seems most intransigent.

While the SAMHSA report simply lays out the data in a state by state format with little commentary, many medical facilities speaking up about the problem also say doctor practices will likely need to change as well. The problem of prescription drug abuse has been widely attributed, at least in part, to physician over-prescribing. Another report which lays out data on prescribing practices by state might provide useful insight.

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