Prescription Medication Abuse

The fastest growing drug problem in the United States is the abuse of prescription medications. Poisonings are the leading cause of unintentional home injury deaths for those ages 15 to 59, largely resulting from unintentional drug overdoses of prescription medications. Drug overdose death rates have more than tripled since 1990.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyday in the United States, 105 people die from drug overdose and 6,748 are seen in emergency rooms because of a misuse or abuse of drugs. Almost 9 of 10 poisoning deaths are because of drugs.

Where the Drugs Come From

Almost all prescription drugs involved in overdoses come from prescriptions originally; very few come from pharmacy theft. However, once they are prescribed and dispensed, prescription drugs are frequently diverted to people using them without prescriptions. More than three out of four people who misuse prescription painkillers use drugs prescribed to someone else.<

Definitions You Need To Know

  • Drug: Any chemical compound used for the diagnosis or treatment of disease or injury, for the relief of pain, or for the feeling it causes. A drug is either a pharmaceutical (including both prescription and over-the-counter products) or illicit.
  • Overdose: When a drug is eaten, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin in excessive amounts and injures the body. Overdoses are either intentional or unintentional. If the person taking or giving a substance did not mean to cause harm, then it is unintentional.
  • Misuse or abuse: The use of illicit or prescription or over-the-counter drugs in a manner other than as directed.

Most people take prescription medications responsibly; however there has been a steady increase in the non-medical use of prescription drugs. The most commonly abused medications are the class of drugs known as prescription painkillers, which include drugs such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone.

Some States Have A Bigger Problem With Prescription Painkillers Than Others.

  • Prescription painkiller sales per person were more than 3 times higher in Florida, which has the highest rate, than in Illinois, which has the lowest.
  • In 2008/2009, nonmedical use of painkillers in the past year ranged from 1 in 12 people (age 12 or older) in Oklahoma to 1 in 30 in Nebraska.
  • States with higher sales per person and more nonmedical use of prescription painkillers tend to have more deaths from drug overdoses.

What is Nebraska Doing?

Senator Steve Lathrop introduced LB1072 which would adopt the Prescription Monitoring and Health Information Exchange Act which would create a prescription monitoring program to collect, manage, analyze and provide prescription information. Under the bill, it would be a part of a health information exchange.

Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) are state-run electronic databases used to track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled prescription drugs to patients. They are designed to monitor this information for suspected abuse or diversion—that is, the channeling of the drug into an illegal use—and can give a prescriber or pharmacist critical information regarding a patient's controlled substance prescription history. This information can help prescribers and pharmacists identify high-risk patients who would benefit from early interventions.

The Nebraska Regional Poison Center offers these tips on medications:

  • Understand why you are taking each medication. Keep a current list of your medications.
  • Read each label carefully and follow the directions. Do not double your medications.
  • If you are a parent, educate yourself first about prescription drug abuse and then talk to your children.
  • Talk to grandparents about what is in their medication cabinet.
  • Store medications in a safe and secure location.
  • Be more aware of your medications – they need to be monitored.
  • Keep medications in their original containers.
  • Never take a prescription medication that was not prescribed for you. They should never be shared.
  • Dispose of old or unused medications that are no longer needed. Watch for prescription "take-back" events in your area. Medications should never be flushed.
  • Call the Poison Center (1-800-222-1222) if you took too much medication. The nurses will provide immediate treatment advice.

Sources:  Nebraska Regional Poison Center
               Centers for Disease Control and Prevention