Rx Misuse May Forecast Drug Abuse

Substance abuse may follow prescribed medications over utilization

(RxWiki News) If you’ve caught your son or daughter with their hand in the medicine cabinet, you may want to keep a cautious eye on their behavior for signs of further substance abuse.

Drexel University published a study yesterday indicating that those misusing prescribed medicines, such as opioid painkillers, tend to also experiment with illegal drugs.

"Ensure your child follows the prescribed medication instructions."

“Results on ages of initiation suggest that prescription drugs may serve as pathways to illicit drugs in some cases,” writes lead author Stephen Lankenaeu, Ph.D., and colleagues.

“Findings on drug substitution, drug combinations, and polydrug use indicate that prescription drugs in both New York City and Los Angeles were frequently consumed as part of a repertoire of misuse involving prescription drugs and illicit drugs.”

According to Dr. Lankenau, over the past ten years prescription drugs have risen to the top of substance abuse charts amongst young adults between ages sixteen and twenty-five.

While marijuana remains the most commonly abused substance, prescription painkillers fall closely behind, “followed by cocaine, prescription tranquilizers, ecstasy, and prescription stimulants.”

Researchers chose to study New York and L.A., our nation’s most populous cities, with the understanding that large metro areas contain the highest prevalence of prescription abuse. Their investigation aimed to identify abuse patterns coinciding with the use of prescribed drugs and what differences might exist from west to east coast.

The analysis included interviews from 596 young adults admitting to the misuse of prescriptions, which began in October 2009 and ended in March of 2011.

The sample included individuals from one of three categories, including injection drug users (IDUs; 202), homeless persons (192), and polydrug users (two or more simultaneously; 202), during the past ninety days. Many IDUs were also homeless, increasing the count from 192 all the way up to 355 when combined.

Interviews were scheduled with all patients, over-viewing drug history and use within ninety days where they were asked questions like “Were you ever prescribed the following [pain pills, tranquilizers, stimulants] by a doctor for any past injury or health condition?” and “Have you ever used [illicit drug list]?”

The study uncovered, “In both sites, lifetime history of receiving a prescription for an opioid, tranquilizer, or stimulant was high and commonly preceded misuse. Moreover, initiation of opiods occurred before heroin and initiation of prescription stimulants happened prior to illicit stimulants.”

The study further uncovered separate substance abuse patterns on the opposite sides of our country. While New Yorkers frequently used oxycodone, heroin, and cocaine, those in Hollywood preferred codeine, marijuana, and meth.

This study is published for free online through the Journal of Public Health Research, funded through the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). No conflicts of interest were reported.

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Review Date: 
February 28, 2012