NIDA InfoFacts: Prescription Pain and Other Medications (page 2)

— The National Institute on Drug Abuse
Updated on Jan 2, 2009

Trends in Prescription Medication Abuse

2005 Monitoring the Future (MTF) Survey*
MTF assesses the extent and perceptions of drug use among 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students nationwide. In 2003, the survey showed that lifetime, annual, and 30-day** use of tranquilizers had declined significantly from 2002 for 10th- and 12th-graders. This was the first year of decline for 12th-graders after a decade of gradual increase. In general, 8th-graders’ rates of reported tranquilizer use have been considerably lower than those observed in the upper grades. These figures remained statistically unchanged in 2005, with 6.8 percent of 12th-graders, 4.8 percent of 10th-graders, and 2.8 percent of 8th-graders reporting annual use of tranquilizers.

Only 12th grade data are reported for use of sedatives. Lifetime use of sedatives among high school seniors remained statistically unchanged between 2004 (9.9 percent) and 2005 (10.5 percent).

Only 12th grade data are reported for abuse of narcotics other than heroin in the MTF. The annual prevalence of this class of drugs had risen considerably, from 3.3 percent in 1992 to 7 percent in 2000 and 6.7 percent in 2001. In 2002, the survey item was changed to incorporate three new specific pain relievers, OxyContin (a controlled-release form of oxycodone that can cause severe health consequences if crushed and ingested), Vicodin (hydrocodone), and Percocet. Following this change, past year use was reported by 9.4 percent of seniors in 2002, 9.3 percent in 2003, 9.5 percent in 2004, and 9.0 percent in 2005.

Beginning in 2002, new items asking specifically about the use of OxyContin and Vicodin were also added to the survey. Annual use of OxyContin by 12th-graders has risen from 4.0 percent in 2002 to 5.5 percent in 2005. Annual OxyContin use has remained more stable in the lower grades since 2002, with 1.8 percent of 8th-graders and 3.2 percent of 10th-graders reporting annual use in 2005. The annual prevalence rate for Vicodin was considerably higher than for OxyContin, at 9.5 percent among 12th-graders, 5.9 percent among 10th-graders, and 2.6 percent among 8th-graders in 2005. Considering the addictive potential of oxycodone and hydrocodone, these are disturbingly high rates of use.

2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH)***
According to the 2004 NSDUH, an estimated 6.0 million persons, or 2.5 percent of the population age 12 or older had used prescription psychotherapeutic medications nonmedically in the month prior to being surveyed. This includes 4.4 million using pain relievers, 1.6 million using tranquilizers, 1.2 million using stimulants, and 0.3 million using sedatives.

The estimated number of people aged 12 or older abusing OxyContin in their lifetime increased from 1.9 million in 2002 to 3.1 million in 2004. Increased rates of lifetime OxyContin abuse were seen in each age group, with the largest increase (from 2.6 percent to 4.3 percent) occurring among young adults aged 18 to 25. Also among young adults, lifetime abuse of tranquilizers increased from 11.2 percent in 2002 to 12.2 percent in 2004, and the proportions abusing any pain reliever and any prescription drug in their lifetime and during the past month also increased over that period. Among youth aged 12 to 17, past year abuse of prescription stimulants declined from 2.6 percent to 2.0 percent.

2004 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN)****
The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), which monitors medications and illicit drugs reported in emergency departments (EDs) across the Nation, found that two of the most frequently reported prescription medications in drug abuse-related cases are benzodiazepines (e.g., diazepam, alprazolam, clonazepam, and lorazepam) and opioid pain relievers (e.g., oxycodone, hydrocodone, morphine, methadone, and combinations that include these drugs).

For 2004, DAWN estimates 495,732 ED visits involved in the nonmedical use (i.e., misuse or abuse) of prescription drugs or OTC pharmaceuticals or dietary supplements. Multiple drugs were involved in more than half (57 percent) of these ED visits.

In 2004, benzodiazepines accounted for 144,385 mentions that were classified as drug abuse cases, and opioid pain relievers accounted for more than 132,207 ED mentions. Methylphenidate, a central nervous system stimulant that has recently captured much public attention, occurred much less frequently. DAWN estimates 1,541 ED visits associated with methylphenidate abuse.

For more information on addiction to prescription medications, visit

* These data are from the 2005 Monitoring the Future Survey, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, DHHS, and conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research. The survey has tracked 12th-graders’ illicit drug use and related attitudes since 1975; in 1991, 8th- and 10th-graders were added to the study. The latest data are online at

** “Lifetime” refers to use at least once during a respondent’s lifetime. “Annual” refers to use at least once during the year preceding an individual’s response to the survey. “30-day” refers to use at least once during the 30 days preceding an individual’s response to the survey.

*** NSDUH (formerly known as the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse) is an annual survey of Americans age 12 and older conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Copies of the latest survey are available at and from the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information at 800-729-6686.

**** These data are from the annual Drug Abuse Warning Network, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, DHHS. The survey provides information about emergency department visits that are induced by or related to the use of an illicit drug or the nonmedical use of a legal drug. The latest data are available at 800-729-6686 or online at

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