Prescription Drug Abuse Impacts Individuals of All Ages

By Staff Writer

The topic of teen prescription drug abuse is an unfortunately common issue in the media today. Illicit online pharmacies make it unfortunately easy for Internet-savvy teens to access prescription medications, as does lax oversight over prescription medications by parents and other family members.
But teens are hardly the only demographic group to be involved with prescription drug abuse
There is virtually no age group that has not engaged in or been negatively impacted by the scourge of prescription drug abuse. As indicated above, adolescent and teen prescription drug abuse has been widely publicized – but young adults, older adults, and senior citizens are also involved in this potentially deadly form of drug abuse.

Prescription Drug Abuse Among Adolescents and Teens

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has reported that prescription drug abuse and over-the-counter drug abuse trail only alcohol abuse, tobacco abuse, and marijuana abuse among adolescents and teenagers in the United States.
NIDA has provided the following statistical snapshot about the state of teen prescription drug abuse in the United States:
  • About 7.7 percent of U.S. youth between the ages of 12 and 17 engage in prescription drug abuse every year. 
  • Almost two million young people (or 1 of every 13 among the 12-to-17 age group) have abused prescription drugs at least once in the previous 12 months.
  • Commonly abused prescription drugs include Ritalin, Adderall, Vicodin, and OxyContin
  • Reasons for abusing prescription drugs include wanting to focus more in class (ADHD medication abuse), self-medicating for depression or physical pain, and recreational use
Regardless of their reasons for choosing to abuse prescription drugs, adolescents and teens who engage in this behavior show no signs of slowing down. As rates of prescription drug abuse continue to rise, young people remain on the forefront of this troubling trend.
But they are not alone.

Prescription Drug Abuse Among Adults

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health), an estimated 20 percent of adults in the United States have abused a prescription medication at least once in their lives. (The term “prescription drug abuse” can encompass any use of a prescription medication that is not consistent with the purpose of the prescription.)
As is also the case with teen prescription drug abuse, adult prescription drug abuse occurs for a variety of reasons, ranging from self-medication to recreational use. Many adults who end up abusing – and becoming addicted to – prescription medications began taking the drugs for legitimate reasons, such as dealing with physical pain.
Prescription drug abuse is a particular concern among adults who are struggling with chronic pain. Legitimate and appropriate treatment for physical pain often involves physician-supervised use of opioids such as hydrocodone (marketed as Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin). 
However, because opioids are highly addictive substances – and because their effects can be so powerful – the risk of their misuse is significant. And because it can be difficult for physicians to determine the true degree of pain that a patient is experiencing, the patient may be able to continue to procure legal prescriptions for their medication. 
Regardless of whether pain medications are acquired from a legitimate pharmacy with a doctor’s prescription or from a clearly illegal source, any misuse of these drugs qualifies as prescription drug abuse, and can put the user at significant risk for addiction, further health damage, or even death.

Prescription Drug Abuse Among Older Adults

The days of thinking that drug abuse is just a young person’s problem are long gone. And nowhere is this more evident than when discussing prescription drug abuse. 
Though adults over the age of 65 comprise about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they receive almost 33 percent of all prescribed medications. Though this disparity is primarily due to the increased need for health care services among older adults, the magnitude of exposure to prescription medications puts the members of this demographic group at increased risk for abusing or becoming addicted to prescription medications.
As is the case with younger adults who abuse prescription medications, many cases of prescription drug abuse among senior citizens starts with legitimate prescriptions for real medical purposes. However, the addictive nature of these substances, combined with the likelihood that older adults may be taking a variety of different drugs at the same time, intensifies the risk of drug abuse and dependence.
According to the American Association for Retired People (AARP), the number of adults age 65 and above who were admitted for substance abuse treatment rose by 32 percent between 1995 and 2002. The AARP report cited opiate abuse as a significant contributor to this increased need for treatment.
As the scourge of prescription drug abuse continues to rise among older Americans, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates that by the year 2030, more than 33 percent of adults over the age of 55 will have a substance abuse problem.