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Misuse of Prescription Drugs

How many people suffer adverse health consequences from misuse of prescription drugs?

The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) monitored emergency department (ED) visits in selected areas across the Nation through 2011. DAWN reported that more than 1.2 million ED visits in 2011 could be attributed to nonmedical use of prescription drugs; this represents about half (50.5 percent) of all ED visits related to drug misuse. Roughly 488,000, or 39.2 percent, of these ED visits involved prescription opioid pain relievers, a rate nearly triple that of 6 years prior. ED visits also more than quadrupled for central nervous system (CNS) stimulants to nearly 41,000 visits in 2011 and increased 138 percent for CNS depressants to 422,000 visits. Of the latter, 85 percent involved benzodiazepines (e.g., Xanax®). ED visits related to use of zolpidem (Ambien®), a popular prescribed non-benzodiazepine sleep aid, rose from roughly 13,000 in 2004 to 30,000 in 2011. More than half of ED visits for nonmedical use of prescription drugs involved multiple drugs.4 Analysis of hospital inpatient data also revealed a 72 percent increase in hospitalizations related to opioid use over the decade from 2002 to 2012, including increases in serious infection associated with intravenous drug administration. Inpatient costs for these hospitalizations quadrupled over the same time period.23

This page was last updated January 2018

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NIDA. (2018, January 17). Misuse of Prescription Drugs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs

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This series of reports simplifies the science of research findings for the educated lay public, legislators, educational groups, and practitioners. The series reports on research findings of national interest.

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