Prescription Drug Abuse Rising, Especially among Teens

Article excerpt

TORONTO -- Prescription drug abuse is growing at a faster rate than is illegal substance abuse, particularly among adolescents, Joseph A. Califano Jr. said at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

"We think the country has got to deal with this problem, because the reality is we are seeing a tremendous increase in prescription drug abuse, particularly in young people," said Mr. Califano, chairman of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, New York, and a former Health and Human Services secretary in the Carter administration.

According to a large research project conducted by CASA that drew on several surveys and databases, the number of Americans abusing prescription drugs exceeds the numbers abusing illegal drugs, except marijuana, he said.

In 2003, 15 million Americans were abusing prescription drugs, compared with only 6 million using cocaine and 4 million using hallucinogens.

The number of Americans abusing drugs increased dramatically between 1991 and 2003, with the greatest rate increase coming among adolescents, for whom the absolute numbers rose from about 700,000 in 1992 to 2.3 million in 2003, an increase of over 200%, Mr. Califano said.

That increase coincided with a huge increase in prescriptions for controlled substances, he noted.

From 1992 to 2002, the population of the country grew 13%. The number of prescriptions written grew 57%. But the number of prescriptions for controlled substances rose 154%.

Physician and pharmacist surveys suggest that lax practice by members of both professions is partly to blame, or at least represents a missed opportunity to curb some prescription drug abuse, Mr. …