WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of
Americans who admit abusing prescription drugs nearly doubled to
over 15 million from 1992 to 2003, with abuse among teens
tripling, according to a new study released on Thursday.
The report by the National Center on
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University suggested
that more Americans were abusing controlled prescription drugs
than cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin combined.
"Our nation is in the throes of an epidemic
of controlled prescription drug abuse and addiction," said
former health secretary Joseph Califano, chairman and founder of
"New abuse of prescription opioids among
teens is up an astounding 542 percent," Califano said. "The
explosion in the prescription of addictive opioids, depressants
and stimulants has, for many children, made the medicine cabinet
a greater temptation and threat than the illegal street drug
dealer, as some parents have become unwitting and passive
The report was based on surveys of doctors
and pharmacists, personal interviews and focus groups and
analysis of national household surveys and census data.
The report said hundreds of Web sites
advertised and sold controlled drugs, often without prescription
and without regard to age so that teens and children could
easily get them.
The substances most likely to be abused
were opioids, or pain relievers like OxyContin or Vicodin;
central nervous system depressants such as Valium or Xanax;
stimulants including Ritalin or Adderall and anabolic-androgenic
steroids like Anadrol or Equipoise.
"The problem can be seen in every stage of
life: rich and poor, old and young, teens partying or cramming
for exams, stressed executives, women juggling the challenges of
work and care-giving, seniors struggling with illness and loss,
the mentally ill searching for relief, movie stars, rock
musicians and athletes," the report said.
It found that between 1992 and 2002,
prescriptions written for controlled drugs increased more than
150 percent while the number of people abusing them rose seven
times faster than the U.S. population.
In 2003, 2.3 million 12- to 17-year-olds --
almost one in 10 -- abused least one controlled prescription
drug. Girls were more likely than boys to be abusers.
Teens who abused drugs were twice as likely
to use alcohol, five times as likely to use marijuana, 12 times
likelier to use heroin and 21 times likelier to use cocaine than
teens who did not abuse such drugs.
The report also found that in 2002,
controlled drugs were implicated in almost 30 percent of
drug-related emergency room deaths while the number of
prescription drug emergency room mentions in hospital logs
increased by nearly 80 percent.
Law enforcement officials around the
country have been wrestling with an epidemic of prescription
drug abuse, especially of powerful pain killers like OxyContin,
popularly known as "hillbilly heroin."
The report found a 140 percent rise in
self-reported abuse of such pain killers from 1992 to 2003,
disproportionately concentrated in the south and west of the