What Epidemic? Study Finds Many Americans Not Taking Their Drugs

What Epidemic? Study Finds Many Americans Not Taking Their Drugs

A new study by one of the nation’s largest drug screening companies found that six out of ten Americans tested are misusing prescription drugs. But contrary to popular belief, the “misuse” is more likely to mean that patients are not taking any medication — rather than taking too much.

The national study by Quest Diagnostics (NYSE:DGX) is one of the largest to examine trends in the use of both legal and illegal drugs. It is based on an analysis of over 220,000 urine drug screens from 49 states and the District of Columbia that were analyzed by Quest laboratories in 2011 and 2012.

bigstock-Concerned-Doctor-With-Sample-5032694Patients were tested for up to 26 commonly abused prescription medications, such as sedatives and opioid painkillers, and illicit drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine. The urine samples came from patients enrolled in drug monitoring programs, so they are not representative of the general population.

Forms of misuse, or inconsistent results, include taking non-prescribed drugs, not taking a prescribed drug, or using an illicit drug.

The analysis found that about 60 percent of patients failed to use their prescription drugs as directed by their physicians. Marijuana was the most misused drug, with non-prescribed marijuana detected in about one out of four patients with inconsistent results. Nearly half of the patients (45%) who used marijuana recreationally also used other non-prescribed drugs, such as sedatives or opioids.

But a large number of patients also showed the presence of no drugs in the urine samples, including medications ordered by their physicians. About 42% of the patients had no drugs in their system in 2012, compared to 40% in 2011. The report speculates that financial constraints may have limited the patients’ ability to buy medications and, if they were purchased, some of the drugs may have been diverted or sold illegally.

Opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin) were by far the most widely prescribed medications (69% in 2012 and 71% in 2011). The findings suggest that despite increased public attention to the so-called epidemic of prescription drug abuse, Americans are still asking for and doctors are still prescribing opioid painkillers in large numbers.

“Despite public education and publicity surrounding the dangers of prescription drug abuse, our study shows that misuse rates continue to be alarmingly high for opioids and other powerful medications,” said F. Leland McClure, PhD, pain management director at Quest Diagnostics. “We are hopeful that recent efforts by policy makers and public and private health professionals will help to rein in the nation’s prescription drug epidemic.”

Other key findings in the study:

  • Among patients with inconsistent test results, evidence of marijuana was found in more than one in four (26%), followed by opiates (22%), benzodiazepines (16%), oxycodone (14%), cocaine (8%) and methadone (6%).
  • About one in three patients with inconsistent results tested positive for a prescribed drug and at least one additional drug.
  • Men and women misused prescription drugs equally.
  • Medicaid recipients had the highest rates of misuse, at 70%, followed by patients covered by private insurers (59%) and Medicare (58%).

“While we had hoped for a noteworthy decline in misuse rates in 2012 compared to 2011, this was not the case,” said Harvey W. Kaufman, MD, senior medical director, Quest Diagnostics. “Not only is prescription drug misuse potentially dangerous for patients, it also contributes to healthcare waste and illegal activity. Our data underscores our nation’s need for better solutions for promoting responsible use of prescription drugs.”

A similar study, conducted last year by Ameritox, found that one in three urine samples (35%) contained no evidence of a prescribed pain medication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention attributes 22,134 deaths in the U.S. in 2010 to prescription drug overdoses, a four-fold increase from 1999.

Authored by: Pat Anson, Editor

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Christina Rightmer

Most whom take prescription opiods do not abuse. I myself have small supply I have for my bad days due to a rare genetic collegan disorder called Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. With us some have constant pain and others have both good and bad days. I do not have to take more than one daily most times but really bad day i take up 5-6 and am very careful. I think the stigma of stating most on Medicaid are the worst abusers should be revamped. This population has the most restrictions in getting and since many are in different public assistance programs this is population in this study that will most stated thus it is not true representation. The few who do abuse make the most trouble for those of us who take legit. So also the statement it could be a cost of medicine why not in system is just maybe at that time the person has had not to take that day or around time of appointment. Everyone has different levels of pain they can tolerate. I for one would like top see more alternative treatments covered like massage therapy and accupuncture as for myself I would respond better to these treatments but they are not covered by medicaid type programs.

I think people in chronic pain use these medications prescribed to them but don’t abuse them. Having them available is like a reassurance in case the chronic pain worsens. Its good to know your well equipped to handle the chronic pain when it does get out of control. Most people don’t want to get dependent upon opiates because this is a negative event. But when all else has failed its good to know your prepared knowing your in control and have these medications available is a feeling of well being.