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Prescription drug abuse is a serious and growing problem in the United States. The National Study on Drug Use and Health reported that an estimated 28.6 million Americans age 12 and over abused controlled substance medication drugs. That means roughly 1 in 10 people struggle with some level of substance use, including addiction to prescription drugs.

Let’s take a closer look at the current prescription drug epidemic in the United States:

  • In the US alone, an estimated 54 million people have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime.

  • Most abused prescription drugs fall under four categories, based on the number of people who misuse the drug annually:

    • Painkillers (opioids) – 3.3 million users

    • Tranquilizers – 2 million users

    • Stimulants – 1.7 million users

    • Sedatives – 0.5 million users

  • More people report using controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine combined. That puts prescription drugs second behind marijuana when it comes to illicit drug use.

  • The number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent (from 8.1 million to 13.5 million) between 1996 and 2018, while the total quantity filled more than tripled. During this same time period, the overdose death rate for benzodiazepines more than quadrupled.

  • Prescription Opioid drugs contribute to 40 percent of all US overdose deaths.

  • 135 people die each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids every year.

  • Prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States costs $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

  • More than half (53 percent) of prescription opioid users got their last painkillers from a friend or relative, with 40.4 percent paying nothing for the pills.

  • Prescription overdose rates are highest among people ages 25 to 54 years.

If you or a loved one uses prescription painkillers or other habit-forming medications, knowing the signs of abuse can help prevent addiction. Some of these include:

  • Becoming preoccupied with getting and using the drug

  • Needing a supply of the drug on hand at all times

  • Needing more of the drug to produce the same level of pain relief or symptom control

  • Engaging in dangerous activities, like driving, while under the influence of the drug

  • Participating in illegal behaviors, such as stealing, to get more of the drug

  • Changes in physical appearance, especially in the area of personal hygiene

  • Doctor shopping to get new prescriptions for their drug of choice(s)

  • Stealing drugs from relatives or friends or asking to use someone else’s prescription

If you or someone you know is struggling with a prescription or over-the-counter drug addiction, seek help. It could be the difference between a sober and healthy life and an early tragic death.

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or to learn more about our recovery coaching services.


Swallowing A Bitter Pill Book Cover Art

Swallowing A Bitter Pill: 2020 second edition now available for purchase. 

Cindy Mogil-Cooley's story of addiction to prescription and over-the-counter drugs, treatment rehabilitation, relapse, and current long-term recovery since 1997.

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