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Article Summary

Pharmaceuticals Drug Threat Assessment

The diversion and abuse of pharmaceutical narcotics, depressants, and stimulants are a significant threat to the United States. A review of the most recent national-level drug prevalence studies indicates that rates of abuse for prescription drugs have increased sharply since the early to mid-1990s but appear to be stabilizing at high levels. The consequences of prescription drug abuse also have increased since the early to mid-1990s and have continued to increase during the past 2 reporting years.

The availability of pharmaceuticals has increased since the late 1990s. Legitimate commercial production and disbursals of pharmaceuticals, particularly prescription narcotics, have increased sharply since the late 1990s, making more of the drugs available for illegal diversion. Most pharmaceutical controlled substances abused in the United States are diverted by forged prescriptions, "doctor shopping," and theft; however, law enforcement agencies report that diversion of pharmaceuticals via the Internet, often through Internet-based pharmacies, has increased sharply since the mid- to late 1990s.

Although most law enforcement agencies are concerned about diversion and abuse of pharmaceuticals, national-level drug survey data show that only a small percentage of state and local law enforcement agencies report that pharmaceuticals are the greatest drug threat to their areas. However, that percentage may be increasing. NDTS 2004 data indicate that 3.1 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide identified pharmaceuticals as their greatest drug threat, up from 2.4 percent in 2003. Regionally, more state and local law enforcement agencies in the Northeast (4.9%), Southeast (4.0%), and Midwest (3.2%) identify pharmaceuticals as their greatest drug threat than agencies in the Southwest (0.3%), Pacific (0.2%), and West (0.0%) regions.

National Drug Threat Survey 2004

NDTS 2004 was administered by NDIC to a representative sample of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to assess the availability and overall threat posed by the trafficking and abuse of all major drug types. NDIC received 3,429 survey responses from law enforcement agencies, an overall response rate of 98.4 percent. Survey respondents were asked to indicate the drug that posed the greatest threat to their areas and to indicate the level of availability for each major drug type. Respondents also were asked to indicate the drug type that most contributes to property crimes and violent crimes within their jurisdictions. Responding agencies also were asked to indicate the level of street gang and outlaw motorcycle gang (OMG) involvement in drug distribution in their areas. Survey responses are used by NDIC to substantiate and augment drug threat information obtained from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

Despite a demonstrable rise in pharmaceutical drug abuse since the mid- to late 1990s, NDTS data indicate that less violent or property crime is associated with pharmaceuticals than with most other drugs of abuse. NDTS 2004 data indicate that only 2.2 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide report that pharmaceuticals are the drugs that most contribute to violent crime in their areas--higher than MDMA (0.2%) but much lower than crack (40.7%), methamphetamine (34.2%), powdered cocaine (7.7%), heroin (5.8%), and marijuana (4.6%). Regionally, a higher percentage of agencies in the Northeast region (4.0%) report that pharmaceuticals are the drugs that most contribute to violent crime in their areas than agencies in the Midwest (2.6%), Southeast (2.0%), Southwest (0.3%), Pacific (0.2%), or West (0.0%) regions. Similarly, only 2.5 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies nationwide report that pharmaceuticals are the drugs that most contribute to property crime in their areas--higher than MDMA (0.1%) but much lower than crack (35.6%), methamphetamine (32.7%), heroin (12.3%), marijuana (9.5%), and powdered cocaine (5.2%). Regionally, a higher percentage of agencies in the Northeast region (4.4%) report that pharmaceuticals are the drugs that most contribute to property crime in their areas than agencies in the Southeast (3.0%), Midwest (2.2%), Pacific (0.7%), Southwest (0.3%), or West (0.2%) regions.

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