What We Learned From SAMHSA’s 2015 Prescription Drug Study
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) provides national and state-level data on the prevalence, patterns and consequences of alcohol, tobacco and illegal drug use in the U.S. It’s sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and provides an annual survey involving interviews with approximately 70,000 randomly selected individuals aged 12 and older.
New Changes, New Data
In 2015, NSDUH’s survey was redesigned to include different data than it had in past years: This time, it included people who used prescription medication as directed by their doctor, as well as people who misused prescription drugs.
In addition, the survey defined “misuse” as any action deviating from doctor’s orders on the prescription. That means anyone who took a higher or more frequent dosage than what was prescribed on the label was deemed to have “misused” it.
Taking these two changes into account, here are some of the highlights of the 2015 study:
- An estimated 119 million Americans used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year, representing 44.5 percent of the population. 36.4 percent used pain relievers, 14.7 percent used tranquilizers, 6.4 percent used stimulants and 6.9 percent used sedatives. Of this 119 million, 18.9 million people were found to have misused these drugs.
- Users of other substances, such as heroin or alcohol, were the most likely to have misused prescription drugs.
- About 2.7 million had a prescription drug use disorder in the past year and about half, or 1.37 million, received treatment.
- Among those who misused prescription pain relievers in the past year, the most commonly reported reason was to relieve physical pain. For tranquilizers, the biggest reason cited by individuals was to relax or relieve tension; those who misused stimulants commonly used them to be alert, help concentration or for a study aid. Among sedative misusers, the most common reason was to help with sleep.
- The most common source for misused pain relievers were from a friend or relative, with about one third misusing a prescription from a doctor. Only about 1 in 20 misusers bought their last pain reliever from a drug dealer or stranger.
Applying the Data
So, what does this all mean? The abuse of prescription drugs has become an epidemic in this country and consequences are on the rise, especially with the growing number of unintentional overdoses.
By highlighting this critical issue through the comprehensive data produced from this study, society can gain a much better understanding of this epidemic. What’s more, policymakers can also learn how to refine substance use prevention and treatment strategies in order to produce more effective outcomes.
What did you learn from NSDUH’s 2015 survey? How does it affect your view on drug abuse in our nation?
Additional Reading: Can a Label Really Stop the Abuse of Some Prescription Meds?
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