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Pharmaceuticual Abuse

Nationwide, the rate of abuse for pharmaceuticals is relatively high compared with rates of abuse for other drug types. National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data indicate that 6.3 percent of persons aged 12 or older reported nonmedical use of any prescription-type pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant (including both illicit and prescription methamphetamine), or sedative (not including over-the-counter drugs) in 2003, second only to marijuana (10.6%) and much higher than cocaine (2.5%) and heroin (0.1%). These rates are similar to those in 2002 when 6.2 percent of persons aged 12 and older reported nonmedical use of any prescription pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant, or sedative within the past year, second only again to marijuana (11.0%) and much higher than cocaine (2.5%) and heroin (0.2%).

Monitoring the Future (MTF) data indicate that rates of abuse for "other narcotics"--prescription narcotics such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), and codeine--have increased over the past decade. According to MTF, the rate of past year abuse for prescription narcotics has increased among twelfth graders from 3.3 percent in 1992, to 6.2 percent in 1997, to 9.4 percent in 2002, but remained relatively stable at 9.3 percent in 2003. Among young adults (aged 19 to 28), the rate of past year abuse for prescription narcotics steadily increased each year between 1992 (2.5%) and 2001 (5.0%), but significantly increased in 2002 (7.1%) and 2003 (8.5%). NSDUH data show that past year nonmedical use of pain relievers was relatively stable from 2002 to 2003 for those aged 12 to 17 (7.6% and 7.7%, respectively), 18 to 25 (11.4% and 12.0%), and 26 or older (3.1% and 3.3%).

Depressant Abuse

According to MTF, the rates of past year abuse of prescription depressants have increased overall since 1992. MTF data for 2003 show that rates of past year abuse for prescription tranquilizers such as Xanax and Valium have increased among twelfth graders from 2.8 percent in 1992, to 5.5 percent in 1998, to 7.7 percent in 2002, but then decreased to 6.7 percent in 2003. Among young adults (aged 19 to 28), the rate of past year abuse for prescription tranquilizers has increased from 3.4 percent in 1992, to 3.8 percent in 1998, to 7.0 percent in 2002, but remained relatively stable at 6.8 percent in 2003. MTF data also indicate an overall increase in the rate of past year abuse for prescription sedatives (barbiturates) among twelfth graders from 2.8 percent in 1992, to 5.5 percent in 1998, to 6.7 percent in 2002, but then decreased somewhat to 6.0 percent in 2003. The rate of past year abuse of prescription sedatives also has increased among young adults from 1.6 percent in 1992, to 2.5 percent in 1998, to 3.9 percent in both 2002 and 2003. NSDUH data show that past year nonmedical use of tranquilizers was unchanged from 2002 to 2003 for those aged 12 to 17 (2.3% in both years) and 26 or older (1.5% in both years); the change in rates for those aged 18 to 25 (4.9% to 5.3%) was not significant. NSDUH data further show that past year nonmedical use of sedatives was quite stable from 2002 to 2003 for those aged 12 to 17 (0.6% and 0.5%, respectively), 18 to 25 (0.5% in both years), and 26 or older (0.4% and 0.3%).

Very limited national-level data regarding abuse of prescription stimulants, particularly Ritalin (methylphenidate), indicate that rates of abuse are declining. Past year rates of abuse for Ritalin have been tracked only since 2001; however, the data indicate an overall decrease from 2001 to 2003 among eighth (2.9% to 2.6%), tenth (4.8% to 4.1%), and twelfth (5.1% to 4.0%) graders. MTF data show that the rate of past year abuse of Ritalin among young adults was 2.9 percent in both 2002 and 2003. NSDUH data show that past year nonmedical use of stimulants (includes methamphetamine) was relatively stable from 2002 to 2003 for those aged 12 to 17 (2.6% and 2.3%, respectively), 18 to 25 (3.7% and 3.5%), and 26 or older (0.8% and 0.6%).

Statistics on Prescription Drug Abuse

Emergency department (ED) and treatment data indicate that the consequences of prescription drug abuse have increased overall since the early to mid-1990s, with the exception of methylphenidate (Ritalin). Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) data reveal that the number of ED mentions for "Narcotic Analgesics" increased steadily from 1995 (20,910), to 1998 (32,573), to 2001 (64,786), and then increased an additional 25 percent from 2001 to 2002 (64,786 to 81,002). Similarly, DAWN data show steady increases in the number of ED mentions for benzodiazepines from 1995 (76,548), to 1998 (88,808), to 2001 (103, 972). The number of ED mentions for this drug category increased by 2 percent (103,972 to 105,752) from 2001 to 2002--the smallest year-to-year increase since the 1998-1999 period (88,808 to 90,539, respectively). The estimated number of ED mentions for methylphenidate has decreased steadily from 1,860 in 1995, to 1,728 in 1998, to 1,279 in 2001 and declined again, albeit only slightly, to 1,245 in 2002.

The most recently available data from the Treatment Episode Data Set (TEDS) indicate that the number of admissions to publicly funded drug treatment facilities for prescription drug abuse has increased steadily since 1992. For example, the number of admissions for "Other Opiates" (prescription narcotics and opium) increased from 13,671 in 1992, to 16,121 in 1995, to 19,941 in 1998, to 29,064 in 2000, to 45,605 in 2002, the most recent year for which such data are available. The number of admissions for benzodiazepines also has increased steadily from 1992 (2,882), to 1995 (3,222), to 1998 (4,524), to 2002 (7,226).

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