Pain Med Addiction Up 400 Percent in Last Decade

The proportion of prescription drug addicts is up four-fold.

ByABC News
July 15, 2010, 12:44 PM

Jul. 16, 2010— -- The proportion of drug addicts checking into rehab that abuse prescription medications has seen a four-fold increase in the past decade, according to a study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

In 1998, 2.2 percent of people seeking treatment reported abusing prescription pain relievers, but that number has climbed steadily over the years. In 2008, nearly 10 percent reported abusing common prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin or morphine, according to the study released Thursday.

Peter Delany, director of the Office of Applied Studies at SAMHSA, who conducted the study, says that this spike is a reflection of a steady increase in the prevalence of the issue.

"In a way it's a good news/bad news story," he says. "People are getting treatment, which is good news. But the bad news is the problem just keeps growing.

"People look at these medications and because it's a prescription, they don't think it's as dangerous," he adds.

But the dangers of prescription drug abuse become clearer with every year, Delany says.

A June report by SAMHSA highlighted this danger: Researchers found that emergency room visits associated with prescription drug overdose more than doubled from 2004 to 2008.

"This has been a trend coming for 10 years," says Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of A Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "It should be no surprise that now it is showing up in ER visits and people checking into treatment centers."

Despite its prevalence, prescription drug addiction is still a poorly understood issue in America, Pasierb says.

"We have to struggle with overturning the public misperceptions," he says. "I'm hoping this report can be like a cold, wet slap in the public's face to wake up to the fact that this is an actual, real public problem."