Pain Medication Abuse Skyrocketing to 400%

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A new government study has found a 400 percent increase in the number of people admitted to treatment for abusing prescription pain medication. The increase in substance abuse among people ages 12 and older was recorded during the 10-year-period from 1998 to 2008. It spans every gender, race, ethnicity, education and employment level, and all regions of the country.

The study was released Thursday by Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House office of drug control policy who says that prescription drug abuse is now the second-most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the country, and the nation's fastest-growing drug problem.

"The non-medical use of prescription pain relievers is now the second most prevalent form of illicit drug use in the nation, and its tragic consequences are seen in substance abuse treatment centers and hospital emergency departments throughout our nation," said Pamela S. Hyde the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Administrator.

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“This public health threat demands that we follow the President's National Drug Control Strategy's call for an all-out effort to raise awareness of this risk and the critical importance of properly using, storing, and disposing of these powerful drugs," she added.

"Our national prescription drug abuse problem cannot be ignored," A. Thomas McLellan, deputy director of National Drug Control Policy, said in the news release. "I have worked in the treatment field for the last 35 years, and recent trends regarding the extent of prescription drug abuse are startling. We must work with prescribers, the pharmaceutical industry, and families to help us fight this scourge."

The report noted that from 1994 to 2003 the number of prescriptions for controlled substances escalated from 22 million to 354 million annually. According Scott Glaser, president of Pain Specialists of Greater Chicago, the number of admissions to hospital emergency rooms for prescription painkillers misuse has risen from 40,000 in 1994 to over 300,000 in 2008.

“There has been a strong push among doctors in recent years to be more aggressive in addressing pain,” Glaser said. “This has led to the dramatic increase in opiates such as morphine, but the problem is there hasn’t been a whole lot of science to go along with that,” added Glaser.

Andrea Barthwell, who has advised the White House on drug policies, said that one of the problems is a lack of effective monitoring of prescriptions between doctors and pharmacies. A federal monitoring program that was signed into law in 2005 did not go through due to lack of funding.

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