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From the Director
The nonmedical use or abuse of prescription drugs is a serious and growing public health problem in this country. The elderly are among those most vulnerable to prescription drug abuse or misuse because they are prescribed more medications than their younger counterparts. Most people take prescription medications responsibly; however, an estimated 48 million people (ages 12 and older) have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetimes. This represents approximately 20 percent of the U.S. population.
Also alarming is the fact that the 2004 National Institute on Drug Abuse's (NIDA's) Monitoring the Future survey of 8th, 10th, and 12th-graders found that 9.3 percent of 12th-graders reported using Vicodin without a prescription in the past year, and 5.0 percent reported using OxyContin-making these medications among the most commonly abused prescription drugs by adolescents.
The abuse of certain prescription drugs-opioids, central nervous system (CNS) depressants, and stimulants- can alter the brain's activity and lead to addiction. While we do not yet understand all of the reasons for the increasing abuse of prescription drugs, we do know that accessibility is likely a contributing factor. In addition to the increasing number of medicines being prescribed for a variety of health problems, some medications can be obtained easily from online pharmacies. Most of these are legitimate businesses that provide an important service; however, some online pharmacies dispense medications without a prescription and without appropriate identity verification, allowing minors to order the medications easily over the Internet.
NIDA hopes to decrease the prevalence of this problem by increasing awareness and promoting additional research on prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse is not a new problem, but one that deserves renewed attention. It is imperative that as a Nation we make ourselves aware of the consequences associated with the misuse and abuse of these medications.
Nora D. Volkow, M.D.
This report is also available in PDF format, Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction, [PDF format, 596 KB]
This report is also available in Spanish, Medicamentos de Prescripción: Abuso y Adicción
All materials appearing in the Research Reports Series are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission from NIDA. Citation of the source is appreciated.
To obtain printed copies of this report, please call or write the National Clearinghouse on Alcohol and Drug Information, P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20852, 1-800-729-6686. NIDA Research Report - Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction: NIH Publication No. 01-4881, Printed 2001. Revised August 2005 2300649since 4/9/01
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