Every day in the US, 2,500 youth (12 to 17) abuse a prescription pain reliever for the first time.
Prescription drug abuse, while most prevalent in the US, is a problem in many areas around the world including Europe, Southern Africa and South Asia. In the US alone, more than 15 million people abuse prescription drugs, more than the combined number who reported abusing cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin.
In 2006 in the United States, 2.6 million people abused prescription drugs for the first time.
In the UK, over-the-counter and prescription drugs kill more people than heroin and cocaine. In Ireland, close to half a million people, or 10 percent of the population, use prescription drugs.
The Home Office estimated in 2008 that the abuse of benzodiazepines caused 17,000 deaths since they were introduced in the 1960s.
In 2005, 4.4 million teenagers (aged 12 to 17) in the US admitted to taking prescription painkillers, and 2.3 million took a prescription stimulant such as Ritalin. 2.2 million abused over-the-counter drugs such as cough syrup. The average age for first-time users is now 13 to 14.
CAUSE OF DEATHS
Depressants, opioids and antidepressants are responsible for more overdose deaths (45%) than cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamines (39%) combined. In the United States, the most deaths used to take place in inner cities in African-American neighbourhoods, but they have now been overtaken by white rural communities. The same trend can be seen in the rates of hospitalisation for substance abuse and emergency hospitalisation for overdoses. Of the 1.4 million drug-related emergency room admissions in 2005, 598,542 were associated with abuse of pharmaceuticals alone or with other drugs.
By survey, almost 50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs—60% to 70% say that home medicine cabinets are their source of drugs.
According to the National Centre on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who abuse prescription drugs are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times more likely to use marijuana, and twelve to twenty times more likely to use illegal street drugs such as heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine than teens who do not abuse prescription drugs.
In 2008, a year-long inquiry was done into dependence to over-the-counter and prescription drugs in the UK. It was found that there were 200,000 illegal benzodiazepine users in the UK and an estimated 1.5 million people addicted to benzodiazepine drugs.
“I realised I was using more Xanax on a regular basis. I took time off work to get off it. Without the knowledge I was addicted, I went ‘cold turkey.’ For four days and nights I was bedridden. I didn’t sleep or eat. I vomited. I had hallucinations. On about the third day without Xanax I started to become uncoordinated and unbalanced and bumped into things. On about the fourth day I became really worried when I started having twitching sensations.” —Patricia