Most Illegal Pain Meds Gotten from Friends or Relatives

Most Illegal Pain Meds Gotten from Friends or Relatives

Over half of the prescription pain relievers used illicitly in 2012 were obtained from a friend or relative for free, according to a new federal survey of drug use in the United States. Even the painkillers that were bought were twice as likely to be purchased from a friend or relative than a drug dealer.

bigstock-Unshaven-Middle-aged-man-readi-23378363The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also found that binge drinking and the illegal use of prescription drugs by young Americans continues to decline, but the use of marijuana and heroin is increasing.

“These findings show that while we have made progress in preventing some aspects of substance abuse we must redouble our efforts to reduce and eliminate all forms of it throughout our nation,” said Pamela Hyde, SAMHSA administrator.

While the rate (5.3%) of nonmedical use of prescription drugs by young adults aged 18 to 25 was similar to rates in 2010 and 2011, it was lower than in 2009 (6.4%). Binge drinking among teens was also down.

Still, the government reports that nearly one in ten teens admitted using an illicit drug during the month prior to being surveyed. And drug diversion remains a serious problem, especially with pain relievers.

Among people aged 12 or older who used pain relievers illicitly in the last 12 months, the survey found:

  • 54% obtained them from a friend or relative for free
  • 11% bought them from a friend or relative
  •  4% bought them from a drug dealer or stranger
  • 20% obtained them through a prescription from a doctor

The statistics are no surprise to Charlie Cichon, executive director of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators, a non-profit that educates and trains health care providers and law enforcement agencies about drug diversion.

“They get it from a friend. They’re not purchasing that product from someone in the bad part of town. And that friend probably got it from the medicine cabinet,” Cichon told National Pain Report during PAINWeek, a national conference in Las Vegas attended by 2,000 practitioners in the field of pain management.

Cichon says the diverted pain medication is often leftover from a surgery or illness. Rather than being thrown out or disposed of, the unused drugs could sit in a medicine cabinet for years – becoming a tempting target for friends, family members or neighbors who ask to use the bathroom.

Cichon says physicians need to be more aware of how pain relievers are being diverted. In addition to advising patients how and when to take pain medication, he says doctors should be telling them how to store and dispose of unused pills.

“I really don’t think the physicians prescribing it legitimately know that this 30 or 60 count pill bottle has this dollar amount put on it, if it can be used illegally. Some of these bottles can go for anywhere from $300 to $2,000,” said Cichon.

marijuana-smoking1-293x300While the street demand for pain relievers is strong, SAMHSA researchers say marijuana remains the drug of choice, with 7.3% of Americans using pot in 2012. That’s an increase of 1.5% in five years.  Marijuana use rose in nearly every age group in that same period, but fell slightly in 2012 among those aged 12 to 17.

The use of heroin also shows a resurgence, with the number of people 12 and older taking the drug nearly doubling from 373,000 in 2007 to 669,000 in 2012.

Another recent SAMHSA study found a “strong association” between the abuse of painkillers and heroin. Abusers of pain medication are 19 times more likely to try heroin than non-abusers. About 3.6% of the people who abused pain relievers tried heroin within five years.

The study also found that many Americans who need treatment for a substance abuse are not getting any. An estimated 23 million Americans needed treatment for abusing drugs or alcohol in 2012, but only 2.5 million received it in a specialized treatment setting.

Researchers, however, were able to find in a silver ling in some of the statistics.

Tobacco use among teens under 18 years of age fell from 15% in 2002 to 8.6% in 2012. And the number of young people with substance dependence or abuse in the 12 to 17 age group dropped from nearly 9% to about 6% over the same period.

“For the first time in a decade, we are seeing real and significant reductions in the abuse of prescription drugs in America,” said Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Expanding prevention, treatment, and support for people in recovery for substance use disorders will be our guide as we work to address other emerging challenges, including the recent uptick in heroin use shown in this survey.”

Authored by: Richard Lenti

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When my son was in high school he knew another student who stole hydrocodone from his grand mother and switched them out with o/c tylenol tablets. Another students mother took horse tranquillizers.

This article states that the drugs were either given or sold pills by relatives. Teaching people how to dispose of them properly would be good but it sounds as if those who would properly dispose of them aren’t the issue. Educating those with the perscriptions the dangers of these meds may help.

Or perhaps spend as much money advertising against drugs as the government has on tabacco would be of help.

Why paint an incomplete picture – criminals are still selling their pills and dealer sourcing becomes more important as a person increases their frequency and dose. As we all know, statistics and surveys have a checkered history. The way a question is asked can have a drastic impact on survey results, a fact that greatly influences this topic. Imagine for a moment that you are a college-age person. You’ve just been alerted by a roommate that a NSDUH Field Interviewer is looking for you. The Interviewer visits repeatedly, yet you’ve done some digging on the web and the NSDUH scope and process look pretty intimidating. You are not particularly inclined to participate and not inclined at all to describe your drug use. Yet the Interviewer continues to hunt you. You give in, and you are given a computer with which to answer the questions. This is advertised to be anonymous, but they have your address and want further contact information, and you know enough about computing to understand all the privacy shortcomings. It’s important to avoid revealing personal information so that potential employers can’t profile you – right? You decide to admit that you occasionally take others’ medicines – who doesn’t? When you get to the free versus purchase part – that’s an easy one because you’re too popular to pay for much of anything these days. Perhaps the best data comes from other surveys of users: Evidence 1: A study of addicted individuals showed that 82% purchased pills from dealers (this was the #1 source). Ref: and the link provided therein. Evidence 2: A state-wide assessment of 11th grade students in Delaware showed that 58% of users obtained or purchased pills from “friends” and 45% of users purchased pills from dealers. This comprehensive study included 80% of all students in the state. Ref: Journal of Addictive Diseases, Vol. 28, pp. 332-347, 2009. Evidence 3: Among a large population of drug users who abused pills as their drug of choice, 67% purchased pills from dealers (this was the #1 source). Ref: The Journal of Drug Issues, Vol. 41, pp. 283-304, 2011. Evidence 4: A survey of prescription drug case investigations carried out in 2010 showed that pills given for free were not among the top-5 sources. The #1 source was sales by patients who possessed an authentic prescription. Ref: SystemStats, NC Criminal Justice Analysis Center, Vol. 29, No. 2, 2012. Please note that NSDUH survey data refer to the most recent sourcing of pills, not the sourcing over the prior year; additionally, the NSDUH definition of non-medical use includes self-treatment of medical illness. The results would differ if people were asked to list all their sources over a year, if the focus was only on misuse, or if the scope was expanded to include the numerous other medications that are abused. The public can process the revelation that the medicine cabinet is finite – so abusers move to other sources – it’s just common sense. Iatrogenic addiction is missing… Read more »

One thing you notice is little is being said about alcohol, a liquid form of drug. Yes people should be more responsible with there drugs in the part of where they store them and who has any kind of access to them. Another thing I feel that all pharmacies should receive any left over meds to dispose of them properly. I have no idea what to do with them, where or how to dispose of them. Would be so much easier to return them to your pharmacy. I now am a chronic pain sufferer and now my pain specialist just wants to inject me with steroids and I already tried that for my lower back. It is a painful process, the moment they start injecting you it hurts. Did nothing that oral steroids did already do for me. The only pain killer I take is one that doesnt make me dopey or high. Do not like most other types because I dont like feeling drugged up and drowsy. The one I take only takes off the edge off of my pain. Now because of all this controversy the pain specialist dont want to give me a regular script. I am not rich and can verily afford to go to the specialists every month to beg for relief. I am trying to stay working but times is very difficult. Even with sleeping pills I have a hard time trying to sleep and when Im in pain after a long day at work sleep is hard to do. I have to constantly move around for some kind of relief. Hard to sleep period! Most of all there always will be addicts! Look at how many alcoholics there are. I would try pot if it was medically legal here in NC. At least it would be something natural and I hear you can get stuff that does not make you high. If they are so worried about who has access to our meds then make us a locked medicine cabinet that would be relatively cheep so anyone could afford it or free to those who are very low income.