Prescription drug abuse admissions up 400 percent in last decade

Substance abuse admissions for prescription pain relievers skyrocketed 400 percent between 1998 and 2008, according to a White House study released Thursday.

Among admissions for which medication-assisted opioid therapy was planned, reports of pain reliever abuse more than tripled, to 27 percent from 7 percent between 1998 and 2008.

"The spikes in prescription drug abuse rates captured by this study are dramatic, pervasive, and deeply disturbing," said Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Policy.

"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 Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Increases in the share of people admitted for pain reliever abuse cut across age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, employment, and region.

Because doctors have been more aggressive in fighting pain in recent years, there's been a dramatic increase in opiates such as morphine, Dr. Scott Glaser, president of Pain Specialists of Greater Chicago told the Christian Science Monitor. From 1994 to 2008, the number of admissions for misuse of prescription painkillers to hospital EDs rose from 40,000 to more than 300,000.

Andrea Barthwell, who has advised the White House on drug policies, cited lack of effective monitoring of prescriptions between doctors and pharmacies, from state to state, as one factor. A federal monitoring program that was signed into law in 2005 languished due to lack of funding.

Although 37 states do some form of monitoring, they are open to abuse, Glaser told the Monitor. Easy access to prescription drugs over the Internet, caravans of people crossing state lines for drugs, street sales are among ways people get around the rules.

To learn more:
- read the full report
- read the Office of National Drug Control Policy's press release
- see the Christian Science Monitor article
- check out the ABC News story