Research presented at the Anesthesiology 2012 annual meeting showed while there has been an encouraging decline in illicit drug abuse across most major metropolitan areas in recent years, prescription drug abuse is climbing.
“Examining trends among various geographical areas, highlighting problem areas and possibly illuminating patterns that may remain otherwise hidden on a larger national level will help determine if we’ve stemmed the tide of prescription drug abuse or if a national epidemic has surfaced,” said study author Asokumar Buvanendran M.D., Rush University Medical Center and Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Chicago.
About the Study
Emergency department drug abuse-related visits were extracted from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) over three years (2007-09) for 11 major metropolitan areas (plus a combined “other” category of various smaller regions). Two types of drug abuse visits were examined; those associated with prescription drugs (e.g., pain medications such as OxyContin) and those associated with illicit “street” drugs (e.g., heroin, cocaine, etc).
In 2007, the percentage of emergency department visits identifying the involvement of illicit drug abuse (36 percent) was consistently higher than prescription drug abuse (20 percent) for all metro areas except the Phoenix region. Among the metropolitan areas, rates of illicit drug abuse varied in magnitude considerably more than prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse rates were more consistent across metropolitan areas but still displayed a few spikes, with higher rates in Houston (33 percent) and Phoenix (27 percent).
Change over time from 2007-09, for illicit drug abuse, showed a consistent downward trend for all metro areas (8 percent overall), while prescription drug abuse rates over this same time period changed much less, showing a slightly increasing trend (2 percent) with some areas increasing while others decrease.
Overall, in the U.S. the percentage of visits for illicit drug abuse decreased (2007: 36 percent, 2008: 32 percent, 2009: 28 percent) while prescription drug abuse visits increased (2007: 20 percent, 2008: 21 percent, 2009: 22 percent) and the total number of “visits” were: 2007: 301,000; 2008: 352,000; and 2009: 280,000.
“The harsh reality is prescription drug abuse has become a growing problem in our society,” said Dr. Buvanendran. “We hope the results of this study will aid physicians in effectively treating patients who struggle with prescription drug abuse, as well as encourage widespread patient education about the safe use, storage and disposal of medications.”