New Data on the Gateway to Prescription Abuse

New Data on the Gateway to Prescription Abuse

People who misuse prescription pain relievers all have one thing in common: a recent history of illicit drug use.

This conclusion was reached by a University of Georgia nationwide study using responses from over 13,000 people to a questionnaire investigating their drug use behavior. The questionnaire is part of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The annual survey collects data on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and mental health problems among individuals aged 12 and older.

“Male or female, black or white, rich or poor, the singular thing we found was that if they were an illicit drug user, they also had many, many times higher odds of misusing prescription pain relievers,” said Orion Mowbray, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and the UGA study’s lead author.

Prescription pain relievers represent the majority of all prescription drugs that are abused in the U.S., and misuse has risen dramatically in recent years. Pain relievers containing synthetic opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone are the most over-used prescription drugs.

The CDC also reported an increase in opioid related mortality over the decade 1999-2008. Increases in emergency room treatments for opioid misuse that included both accidental overdoses and suicide attempts rose 183% in 2004 to 2011, according to a 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The reason for the increase is not clear, but the report offers possible solutions to address the problem.

“If we know how people come to possess the pain relievers they misuse, we can design better ways to lower that likelihood,” said Mowbray. “This study gives us the knowledge we need to substantially reduce the opportunities for misuse.”

The UGA researchers determined that adults aged 50 and above were more likely to acquire pain relievers through the use of more than one doctor – a behavior known as “doctor shopping” – whereas younger individuals were more likely to acquire them from friends, family, or drug dealers.

The researchers recommend use of the doctor-patient relationship to curb this trend.

“Doctors may conduct higher quality conversations with older patients about the consequences of drug use before they make any prescription decisions, while families and friends should know about the substantial health risks before they supply a young person with a prescription pain reliever,” said Mowbray.

The study also calls for greater coordination between medical care providers to reduce the possibility of over-prescription of painkillers, and for improving the communication between doctors, patients and the public. Recent implementations of prescription monitoring programs introduced in 49 states are also designed to reduce the acquisition of prescription medications from multiple doctors.

The study, “Prescription pain reliever misuse prevalence, correlates, and origin of possession throughout the life course,” is available online at the URL listed below.

Prescription pain reliever misuse prevalence, correlates, and origin of possession throughout the life course Addictive Behaviors Volume 50, November 2015, Pages 22–27.


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Authored by: Kurt W.G. Matthies

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I’m with you, Dennis. This whole epidemic du jour crackdown is doing way more harm than good. My life is just gone - not diminished, but disappeared - since the pain meds I’ve been on for over ten years were arbitrarily cut in half now that doctors, instead of being able to assess and treat individual patients based on their own judgment and the patient’s condition, are now required to follow the DEA/CDC/name your own alphabet agency’s prescribing criteria. Because, you know, the one-size-fits-all approach is so very effective.

Janice Reynolds

thank you Dennis for an excellent comment. It seems sometimes like we are fighting a tidal wave of mud as it sticks and threatens to drown those living with pain without ever coming clean with what the problem really is, I see three parts to the problem; 1) Prejudice against people with pain-when Margo McCaffery said in 1968 “Pain is what the person says it is , existing when he says it does” she was ridiculed. We still have many saying their pain can’t be that bad, only people with cancer really have pain, and so forth 2) there is a correlation with pain medication and addiction it isn’t even a strong one but articles like this link them together as if it is a causal relationship. It is like saying I have five driveways with snow on them and someone is shoveling snow on each one. Three people have heart attacks so it is obvious that driveways cause heart attacks! 3) we have no idea whether studies they talk about are valid, have strong evidence, or are actually crap (such as the CDC’s one on overdose deaths). The media, “if it bleeds it leads; addiction is such a sexier story than people living and coping with pain.


I was dismissed from my pain doc because in her opinion my pain level wasnt enough to warrant the pain meds I’ve been taking for the last 7 yr at a lower dose than when i started seeing her so i give up and will seek relife else where i will NOT SUFFER

Imagine that… they had to interview 13,000 people to discover that those suffering from the mental health issue of addiction will take whatever they can get their hands on to abuse and attempt to get “high”.. I wonder how much they spent to validate common sense ?

Again, let me say, again and again and again; Why are these people so concerned about a small percentage of illicit drug users when there are a huge number of people being abused, misused, over-used and under-treated for the real epidemic of chronic pain diseases slamming this country, and the world for that matter. If we could just swing the people dedicating their time, energy and money over to a real problem instead of giving those who give people in pain a bad name, it would be very helpful to us. First, it would stop these stupid headlines that we always get lumped into. Second, it would put people to actual task on looking into the PAIN epidemic and helping people who want to get back to life, who want to work again, have friends again, enjoy some true recreation again. If we add up the amount of people, energy, time and money that has been put into these wasteful studies that are serving the wrong purpose, we would see that we could staff an office and run commercials on a nationwide basis to start bringing awareness and attention to the plight of people in chronic pain. We number near 100 MILLION! How many folks are these studies talking about helping? And why?

Anyone who has taken illicit drugs, for whatever reason (Fun!) knows that prescription drugs are part of the game. Once you’ve broken the stigma of “doing drugs” in any way you do that, it is always easy to take, pretty much anything after that to get high. Who cares? Are there 100 million of these people? Aren’t they mostly adults doing what they want, by choice? Let them! We are NOT doing pain BY CHOICE. We have been abused by the system who makes a fortune many times over on our plight. We need help!

So the next time someone has a steering committee meeting about doing a study of drug abuse, overdose, prescription whatever…call me first! Please, call me first! I will give you a task that will actually help good, well meaning, hard working, caring people get through something that is costing them their lives, their friends, their homes and jobs, all their money, self worth and self identity, for no reason except greed and neglect and there are 100 MILLION of us out here, drowning, while you study people who choose their fate. I tell you what, take care of us and WE”LL take care of them!