Trends in Drug Abuse

During the last several decades, prescription drug use has been on an upward trend. But, the good news is, recent studies show that those numbers have declined slightly in the past decade.  For instance, in 2008, about 48.3% of American children and adults reported taking a prescription drug. A decade later, in 2018, that number dropped to 45.8%.  No doubt, we should pay attention to these trends in drug abuse if we want to save lives.

The above study, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics states that it isn’t clear why this decrease occurred.  One theory is that it may have resulted from a possible “decline in the use of inappropriate or ineffective therapies.

The decline in prescription drug use may also be attributed to tighter prescribing guidelines, a series of legislative and regulatory restrictions, and greater reimbursement control.  Also, prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) are helping bring down the number of high-dose opioid prescriptions.

Why Should We Worry About the Trends in Drug Abuse?

We should be concerned about drug use trends for many reasons, but saving lives is at the top of the list.  Of course, awareness about drug use trends can also help us provide high-quality drug detox and rehab programs.

When we read statistics like the following, the number seems small.  For instance, 3 in 4 people suffer alcohol abuse problems, 1 in 3 people abuse illicit drugs, and 1 in 9 abuse alcohol and drugs simultaneously.  However, these numbers represent millions of human lives that are in danger of suffering adverse health consequences or death due to substance abuse.  Look at these drug overdose numbers to get a better perspective on the situation:

Drug overdose deaths attributed to these most commonly abused substances:

  • Alcohol-related deaths – 88,000 deaths
  • Synthetic opioids – 20,145 deaths
  • Heroin – 15,446 deaths
  • Natural and semi-synthetic opioids – 14,427 deaths
  • Cocaine – 10,619 deaths
  • Methamphetamine – 7,663 deaths
  • Methadone – 3,314 deaths

Overall, more than 70,200 Americans died from drug overdoses in one year alone.

One of the trends in drug abuse that has contributed to the overdose death rates involves people switching from prescription painkillers to heroin. We also need to be concerned about the drug-related suicide deaths that occur daily.  For example, more than 58% of drug-related suicides in 2014 involved benzodiazepines. Another disturbing trend involves lacing heroin or cocaine with fentanyl, which is synthetic opioid that is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine.

What the Trends Tell Us

Understanding drug use trends can help us recognize how age, genetics, health conditions, financial status, gender, and environment affect substance abuse behaviors.

Here are some of the things researchers have determined based on the trends:

  • 50% of females are more likely to take prescription meds than males
  • 22% of boys under the age of 12 were more likely to take a prescription drug than girls
  • Opioids are the primary driver of drug overdose deaths
  • Drugs alter areas of the brain that are necessary for life-sustaining functions
  • Cues in a person’s environment or routine can trigger cravings for the drug
  • People with addictions have more health issues
  • Drug use and mental health often exist simultaneously
  • Addicts are more susceptible to infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and STDs
  • People with chronic pain often self-medicate and become addicted

Of course, this list could be much longer, but the main point is that addiction is a complex disorder characterized by a combination of contributing factors.  Keeping an eye on emerging trends in drug abuse is the best way to plan strategies for addressing the problem.


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