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10 Prescription Drug Abuse & Addiction Statistics

Prescription drug abuse is an insidious epidemic plaguing many countries worldwide. It involves taking potent medical drugs without prescription, at high doses. Those who abuse prescription drugs mix them with alcohol or a cocktail of other medications, and use it for a different purpose other than what the doctor intended. Unfortunately, dependence on prescription medications often leads to drug addiction and fatal overdose

Here are the latest prescription drug abuse statistics from recent years to help you understand the severity of this global health concern and why it’s critical to address and prevent it while maintaining safe access to medicine. 

Worldwide Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics 

  • According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 0.5 million deaths worldwide are linked to drug use. More than 70% of these deaths are related to opioid addiction, with more than 30% fatal drug overdose.
  • The number of opioid-related deaths is steadily increasing in Canada, with over 13,900 deaths happening between January 2016 and June 2019, with the highest incidence recorded in British Columbia.
  • In the United States, opioid-related deaths increased by 120% between 2010 and 2018. Two-thirds of opioid deaths in 2018 were caused by synthetic opioids, including fentanyl and its analogues.
  • An estimated 2 million Americans misused prescription pain relievers for the first time within the past year—more than 1 million misused tranquilizers and 271,000 misused sedatives for the first time.
  • 16 million or 6% of Americans over the age of 12 misuse prescription drugs a year.
  • The National Institute of Drug Abuse’s Monitoring the Future survey reveals that about 6% of high school seniors reported non-medical use of Adderall (a stimulant), and 2% misused Vicodin (an opioid-based pain reliever). Canadian students report non-medical use of prescription drug stimulants to enhance their academic performance in school,  but there is no sufficient scientific evidence to support this effect.
  • 43.3% of first-time prescription drug abusers use painkillers, while 32.1% use sedatives or tranquillizers.
  • In Canada, the prevalence of prescription stimulant use is highest among youth aged 15 to 19 (5.4%) and young adults aged 20 to 24 (5.6%).
  • 59.5% of prescription drug abusers use pain relievers.
  • According to Drug Abuse Statistics, 65.7% of painkiller abusers say they use the drug to relieve physical pain. 11.3% of painkiller users misuse prescription drugs to feel good or get high. Other reasons for prescription drug abuse are to alleviate tension (10.0%), help with feelings or emotions (3.8%), help with sleep issues (3.7%), and to experiment (2.2%).

Closeup of a doctor holding a prescription slip

The Most Abused Prescription Drugs 

Below is a list of the most commonly abused prescription medications and the rate of their annual abusers based on the latest prescription drug facts and statistics.

  • Painkillers (9.7 million) – There are three main types of painkillers: non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), paracetamol, and opioids. Examples of NSAID painkillers include ibuprofen, diclofenac, naproxen, and aspirin.
  • Opioids (9.3 million) – Opioids are natural or synthetic drugs derived from or related to the opium poppy. Opiates, on the other hand, are a subset directly derived from the opium poppy plant. Heroin and fentanyl are the most notable opioid-based prescription drugs examples.
  • Sedatives (5.9 million) – Sedatives, also known as depressants, manage different conditions, such as anxiety, tension, and panic disorders. Examples include barbiturates, gamma-hydroxybutyrate (GHB), and sleep-inducing drugs zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta). Abuse of sedatives can result in dependence and addiction.
  • Stimulants (4.9 million) – Popularly known as “uppers,” stimulants are sought to get that sense of rush, intense levels of energy, hyper-focus, and wakefulness. Popular prescription stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination product (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta).
  • Benzodiazepine (4.8 million)- Benzodiazepines are prescription drugs that are used to treat anxiety disorders, seizures, and insomnia. When taken short-term under the supervision of a medical professional, these drugs can be safe and effective. However, long-term use can lead to tolerance, dependence, and other adverse effects.
  • All Prescription Drugs (16.3 million) – Refers to all other types of abused prescription drugs.

How To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse 

The high prescription rate and easy access to these prescription drugs are some of the main drivers of this type of addiction. If you have to take any of the most commonly used medications mentioned above, here are some tips on lowering your risks of prescription drug abuse. 

  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on how to take your medications. 

    Don’t stop or change the dosage or frequency on your own without your doctor’s advice. For example, if you need a higher dose of painkillers to manage the pain and be comfortable, talk to your doctor first; never try to up your dose on your own.

  • Have regular check-ups with your doctor and communicate about how the drug is working for your condition.                                                                                                 

    Do not hesitate to tell your doctor if you suspect that you are developing prescription drug abuse symptoms.

  • Don’t hesitate to ask your doctor or pharmacist about the well-documented side effects of your medication.                                                                                              

    Ask them if consuming alcohol or taking other over-the-counter drugs should be avoided when taking certain medications to prevent complications.

  • Do not self-medicate or use another person’s prescription.                                

    Different people have different medical needs. What works for others may not work for you.

CLose up of a stethoscope and prescription pad 

Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment with Freedom From Addiction 

These prescription drug abuse statistics are an eye-opener to how crucial it is to get proper addiction treatment as soon as possible. If you or a loved one is struggling because of prescription drug addiction, our experts here at Freedom From Addiction can help you work towards a life of recovery and sobriety.

We offer the following:

Please do not hesitate to reach out to us for more information about our prescription drug addiction treatment program. A member of our team will get back to you shortly. 

Contact us today!


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