NIDA and partners announce national initiative on prescription drug misuse and abuse

April 09, 2001

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and several national organizations today announced a public health initiative to raise awareness about recent trends in the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs in the United States. The initiative seeks to inform the public, physicians, pharmacists, and others about the misuse and abuse of medications and promote additional research on the subject. "While prescription drugs can relieve a variety of medical problems and improve the lives of millions of Americans, they can be dangerous, addicting - and even deadly - when used non-medically, " said NIDA Director Dr. Alan I. Leshner. "An estimated four million people aged 12 or over used sedatives, stimulants, tranquilizers or opioids for non-medical reasons in 1999."

Joining with NIDA are AARP, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Pharmaceutical Association, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, the National Community Pharmacists Association, the National Council on Patient Information and Education, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

At a news conference in Washington, DC, Dr. Leshner said, " The reports of increasing misuse of prescription drugs in some segments of the population -- older adults, adolescents, and women -- are particularly worrisome because of their numbers and because those numbers appear to be increasing rapidly."

Research suggests that more than 17 percent of adults over 60 may be affected by prescription drug abuse. New prescription drug abuse has dramatically increased among young people between 12-25 years old and in a 1999 survey, 12-14 year olds named psychotherapeutics, such as painkillers, sedatives, and stimulants, as some of their more frequently used drugs. Overall, men and women use prescription drugs non-medically in equal numbers. However, some studies indicate that women may be more likely to misuse narcotics and anti-anxiety drugs, in part because women are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with depression and, as a result, to be treated with psychotherapeutic drugs. Among 12-17 year olds, young women are more likely than young men to use psychotherapeutic drugs non-medically.

Dr. Leshner says doctors, pharmacists, and patients can all play a role in preventing misuse of medications. Doctors should ensure that patients understand how to use prescribed medications and should also be alert to signs of patient drug abuse. Pharmacists can help by clearly instructing people on how to take medication and explaining side effects and potential drug interactions. They can also check for false or forged prescriptions. Patients should make sure they know how to use their medication, and should always talk to their doctor or pharmacist before increasing, decreasing, or stopping any medication.

"Attention must now be paid to the long neglected area of prescription drug abuse," said Joseph H. Autry III, M.D., acting administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "There is no typical abuser. Medical personnel must use every opportunity to screen and educate all of their patients."

As part of this effort, NIDA and its partners are releasing a research report that highlights the health consequences of prescription drug misuse and abuse.

In addition to the research report, NIDA is distributing 400,000 postcards with messages about the dangers of prescription drugs. The cards are available in restaurants, book stores, clubs, record stores, coffee shops, gyms, and other stores in several major cities, including Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, New York, Miami, and Mesa, Arizona, the largest retirement community in the United States. The cards are also being given out at college campus locations nationwide.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports more than 85 percent of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and other topics can be ordered free of charge in English and Spanish through NIDA Infofax at 1-888-NIH-NIDA (644-6432) or 1-888-TTY-NIDA (889-6432) for the deaf. These fact sheets and further information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA home page at

NIH/National Institute on Drug Abuse

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