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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Grainger

Prescription Drug Abuse: Confronting the Epidemic

In 2017, approximately 70,200 Americans died due to drug overdoses(1). Of these, nearly 50% were overdoses involving prescription drugs, such as opioids, stimulants, insomnia and anti-anxiety drugs.

The current state of this national epidemic has reached catastrophic proportions, and is continuing to worsen. Over prescribing, addiction, and illegal manufacturing of these drugs all contribute to their availability to the public and thus the potential for their abuse.

If current policy regarding drug prescribing and monitoring of drug availability is not changed, the burden on the American health system, tax payer and economy will only increase.


It falls to the individual, as well as the medical and pharmaceutical industry, to modify the way pain and illness is treated in order to begin addressing this issue.

Nearly 35,000 U.S. citizens died as a result of prescription drug overdoses in 2017

What is Prescription Drug Abuse?

Prescription drug abuse is using prescription medication in a way not intended by the prescribing doctor(2). Prescription drug abuse includes taking higher doses than prescribed, using a friend's prescription painkiller for a back injury, to ingesting prescription medication to experience euphoria.

Statistics on Prescription-Related Overdoses

Deaths in the U.S. caused by illicit and prescription drugs have seen a dramatic rise over the past two decades(3). Starting with the rise in opioid prescriptions in 1999, prescription drug abuse has permeated into most demographic cohorts, including those with higher incomes, women and the privately insured.   

Prescription-related overdose deaths, most of which involve the misuse of painkillers, are now responsible for more drug-related overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined, as well as half a million emergency room visits a year(3).

The most commonly abused medications are painkillers, primarily hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), morphine (Kadian, Avinza), and codeine(3). Misuse commonly leads to a physical dependence on the substance, which results in withdrawal symptoms when their use is stopped.

Signals Indicating Prescription Drug Abuse

One of the most common indicators that a patient may be developing a prescription-drug abuse habit is if they continue to use the medication after the original issues has been remedied(4).  Other warning signs include:

· Increasing the medication does. This occurs as our bodies develop a tolerance to the medications and need higher dose to experience the same effect.

· Mood, energy and concentration fluctuations.

· Attending various doctors to acquire prescriptions.

· Consuming medication prescribed for someone else.

If you think you or someone you know might be misusing prescription drugs, it’s your responsibility to ask for help. Treatment for prescription drug addiction usually starts with weaning you off the drug to end your physical dependence. This is typically followed with counseling (sometimes in an inpatient setting), and may also include the use of certain medications designed to treat addiction, such as naltrexone, methadone, and buprenorphine(4).


Prescription drug overdoses are equally responsible for drug-related deaths as cocaine and heroin. Abusing these drugs is just as serious and damaging to your life and others around you as is abusing illegal drugs.

By being aware of the symptoms of drug dependency and finding alternative treatments, we can begin to address this national epidemic of addiction and mortality.


1) Understanding the Epidemic | Drug Overdose | CDC Injury Center. (2019). Retrieved 18 June 2019, from

2) Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers --- United States, 1999--2008. (2019). Retrieved 18 June 2019, from

3) SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2019). Retrieved 18 June 2019, from

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