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SAMHSA research sheds light on prescription drug misuse

August 9, 2017
by Tom Valentino, Senior Editor
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A pair of reports recently issued by SAMHSA aim to shed light on the misuse of prescription medications, including opioids.

The first study, based on SAMHSA’s 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that most individuals who misuse prescription drugs do so in response to the condition for which they were originally prescribed the medication. According to the NSDUH data, 91.8 million Americans ages 18 and over (37.8% of the U.S. adult population) used prescription pain medications within the prior year. Of that group, 11.5 million reported misusing their prescription. Relieving physical pain was the most common reason for misuse, cited by 63.4% of those who misused their prescriptions.

Other prescription medication misuse within the prior year:

  • About 5.7 million adults misused tranquilizers to relieve tension (46.2%) or as a sleep aid (21.2%)
  • Roughly 4.8 million adults misused stimulants to improve alertness (28.4%), increase concentration (26.2%) or help studying (22.4%)
  • About 1.4 million adults misused sedatives to help with sleep (73.2%)

In the second study, a spotlight report analyzing NSDUHs from 2002 to 2014, opioid misuse was found to be on the rise in the over-50 age group, increasing from 1.1% of the older adult population in 2002 to 2.0% in 2014. Notably, opioid misuse among adults ages 26 to 49 remained relatively stable, going from 4.8% in 2002 to 4.7% in 2014, and opioid misuse among those in the 18 to 25 age group actually dropped, from 11.5% to 8.1% over the same period.

Rachel Lipari, PhD, one of the authors on the study of the 2002 to 2014 data, says overall rates of opioid misuse have been in decline, making the increase in the over-50 population a relatively unexpected outlier.

Melinda Campopiano, MD, senior medical advisor for the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, says the reasons for misuse are common factors that impact day-to-day functioning, especially later in life, and that comorbid conditions and the potential for drug interactions make it especially important for providers to educate patients over 50 on the perils of misuse.

“Health professionals need to be aware of how pain, stress and sleep disturbance is impacting the function of older adults so that we can help them know what the safe options are for dealing with these problems so they’re not inclined to self-medicate, either with their old medications that they got for something else or with medications often provided with the best of intentions by a loved one,” Campopiano says.

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