Epidemic: Facts about opioid crisis



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Prescription drug abuse is the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem.

While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.


The same survey found that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or from the Internet.


Additionally, the latest Monitoring the Future study—the Nation’s largest survey of drug use among young people—showed that prescription drugs are the second most-abused category of drugs after marijuana.


In our military, illicit drug use increased from 5 percent to 12 percent among active duty service members over a three-year period from 2005 to 2008, primarily attributed to prescription drug abuse.


Although a number of classes of prescription drugs are currently being abused, this action plan primarily focuses on the growing and often deadly problem of prescription opioid abuse. The number of prescrip­tions filled for opioid pain relievers—some of the most powerful medications available—has increased dramatically in recent years.


From 1997 to 2007, the milligram per person use of prescription opioids in the U.S. increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams, an increase of 402 percent. In addition, in 2000, retail pharmacies dispensed 174 million prescriptions for opioids; by 2009, 257 million prescrip­tions were dispensed, an increase of 48 percent.


Further, opiate overdoses, once almost always due to heroin use, are now increasingly due to abuse of prescription painkillers.


Source: Office of National Drug Control Policy

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