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Though intended for legal, medicinal purposes, prescription medications have become some of the most heavily trafficked drugs within the underground market. After marijuana, prescription medications are the most commonly abused drugs in the United States, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
As addiction soon follows ongoing abuse of most any powerful drug, prescription drug addiction statistics continue to reflect the growing trend towards recreational prescription drug use. Factors influencing these trends involve prescription drug availability as well as individual and group risk factors. The sobering effects of prescription drug addiction become all the more apparent in the statistics surrounding overdose rates.
Prescription Drug Access
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as many as 2 million people reported using prescription pain pills for recreational purposes for the first time in 2009. This number amounts to 5,500 new users per day, all of which become prey to the effects of prescription drug addiction.
The majority of these prescription drugs come from:
- Primary care physicians
- Internal medicine physicians
Among this group, 20 percent of authorized prescribers distribute 80 percent of all prescription pain pills.
While physicians exist as the primary source of prescription medications, 55 percent of users obtain these drugs from friends and relatives. Only 17.3 percent of prescription drug abusers use physicians as their primary source of drugs. In effect, prescription drug addiction trends tend to develop outside the bounds of regulatory control.
Men vs. Women
In general, addiction rates for men exceed those for women in any given year; however, women face the greatest risk of developing prescription drug addictions. As a group, women tend to suffer from conditions involving chronic pain more often than men do. Consequently, women are prescribed prescription pain medications with greater frequency.
Since the female body metabolizes medications differently than a male’s, prescription dosage amounts run higher and are used for longer periods of time. A woman’s physiology also leaves her more at risk for physical dependence than men.
Prescription Drug Addiction & Overdose Rates
While prescription drug addictions can take the form of stimulant, sedative and opiate addictions, opiate or pain pill addictions far exceed those involving stimulants and sedatives. On average, three out of every four overdoses result from prescription pain pill abuse.
The number of emergency room admissions involving opiate drugs doubled within a five year period from 2004 to 2009. In 2008, opiate medications accounted for more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. Between the years 1999 and 2010, opiate-related overdose deaths increased by 300 percent.
Overdose Risk Factors
Certain key populations appear to be most at risk of overdoses resulting from prescription drug addiction. These groups include:
- People prescribed high daily dosages of pain relief medications
- Low-income populations
- People living in rural areas
- People affected by mental illness
It’s really no surprise high daily dosage amounts can place people at risk of addiction and overdose. With Medicaid as a primary health insurance provider, low-income populations and people living in rural areas are twice as likely to be prescribed pain relief medications and six times more likely to die of overdose.
As people affected by mental illness have a whole other set of symptoms to contend with, prescription drug addiction further aggravates these symptoms, which in turn intensifies drug-using behaviors.