New Study Shows Most Prescription Drug Abusers Get Their Supply from Friends and Family

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A new study published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that most people who abuse prescription painkillers get them from friends and family who have been prescribed the medication. Unlike other types of drugs, drug dealers are an uncommon source for prescription drugs; only 15 percent of the most frequent abusers turn to drug dealers or strangers for their supply. Well over half of frequent users get the drugs for free from friends and relatives.

Dr. Leonard Paulozzi, researcher at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and CDC colleagues analyzed four years of nationwide health surveys regarding the nonmedical use of prescription pain pills such as OxyContin and Vicodin. According to this data, approximately 12 million people age 12 and older use prescription drugs recreationally.

Previous data from the CDC shows that overdose deaths from these types of drugs have more than tripled from 1999 to 2010, with more than 16,000 deaths a year. When you compare these numbers to the less than 8,000 people who die from heroin and cocaine overdoses, it’s clear that our country has a very serious problem on our hands. It’s one thing to be called a Pill Popping Nation; it’s another to have the statistics to back up these claims.

How are the Drugs Obtained?

Since the above study was based on previous research, the data does not show if friends and relatives shared the drugs, or if they were obtained in a different manner. It’s difficult to say what the percentages would break down to, but it’s probably a combination of both. Unfortunately, prescription medication is so commonplace in our country, many people believe that as long as it’s prescribed, the drug can’t be all that dangerous. So, even good intentioned people may not think twice about giving their friend oxycodone.

We can assume, however, that many people are simply taking these prescription meds from their friends and family without them knowing. Imagine the number of households that have old bottles of pain pills stashed in their medicine cabinets from previous surgeries and medical procedures? Millions. Some households are careless; others forget about what’s in their home. This opens up a doorway for curious teens and young adults, and can easily set the stage for abuse.

Should There be Tighter Regulations for Written Prescriptions?

Those who are addicted and run out of their supply doctor shop. According to the study published in JAMA, more than one in four people who took pain medication at least once a day got their supply from doctors. Some of these people had several doctors prescribing them pain medication, while others simply bounced from one doctor to the next.

These statistics shouldn’t come as a shock, considering that 80 percent of world’s pain pills are consumed in the United States, according to the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. These pills have to be coming from somewhere. The Food and Drug Administration announced last year that they would be tightening the regulations for doctors who prescribe drugs like hydrocodone. Some of these restrictions would include not being able to call in the prescription over the phone and having to check in with the patient before prescribing another prescription.

Preventing Prescription Misuse in the Home

At The River Source, we work with many clients who struggle with addiction to prescription medication. To make things even more complicated, many addicts combine pain meds with alcohol and other drugs, so they must detox and withdrawal from both. While there are many things we can’t control in the world, you CAN take control over how your family stores prescription medications. Remember, it’s not just pain meds but anti-anxiety, ADD and ADHD and some seizure medications that can be abused as well.

We recommend that families follow these precautions to keep their family and friends as safe as possible:

– Medicine cabinets, dresser drawers, bathroom linen closets, etc. are not enough. Purchase a lock for the space and store your prescription medications in here. Standalone safes and lockboxes are also sufficient.

– Monitor your medications. Take a regular inventory and keep track of refills. If you find that you have to refill the bottle more often, don’t pass this red flag by.

– If your teen has been prescribed a pain or anti-anxiety medication, monitor the dosage and refills. Keep all extra pills in your possession.

– When drugs are no longer needed, follow proper disposal methods. It’s often recommended that you mix the drug with an undesirable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds, then throw this away in a bag in the trash.

– There are some drugs that are better flushed down the toilet than the trash, such as fentanyl and oxycodone, so check with the FDA for proper disposal methods.

To learn more about our holistic approach to treating addiction to prescription medication, please contact The River Source at 1-888-687-7332.