Study: Friends common source of abused meds

March 4, 2014 by Lindsey Tanner

Most people who abuse addictive prescription painkillers get them for free from friends or relatives, while drug dealers are a relatively uncommon source for those at highest risk for deadly overdoses, a U.S. government study found.

People who abuse the most frequently often doctor-shop; more than 1 in 4 who used these drugs almost daily said they had been prescribed by one or more physicians. Almost as many said they got them for free from friends or relatives; only 15 percent of the most frequent abusers said they bought the drugs from dealers or other strangers.

Those abusers "are probably using at much greater volumes and simply asking a friend for a pill now and then is not going to be sufficient," said Dr. Leonard Paulozzi, a researcher at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the study, two-thirds of abusers said they used the drugs infrequently and well over half of these users said they got them free from friends or relatives.

Paulozzi and CDC colleagues analyzed four years of nationwide health surveys on nonmedical use of pain relievers including oxycodone and hydrocodone. These include the brand-name pills OxyContin and Vicodin, in a family of drugs called opioids—chemically similar to opium.

The study was published online Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Paulozzi said overall prevalence of nonmedical use of prescription opioid painkillers has held steady in recent years, at about 12 million, or 1 in 20 people aged 12 and older.

But previous CDC data show overdose deaths involving these drugs more than tripled from 1999 to 2010, with more than 16,000 deaths that year. By contrast, that involved heroin and cocaine totaled less than 8,000, and deaths that involved often-abused that include anti-anxiety medication totaled about 6,500.

A separate study in the same journal presents Tennessee—among states hardest hit by —as a snapshot of the problem. From 2007 through 2011, one-third of Tennessee's population filled an opioid prescription each year, the study found. Nearly 8 percent had used more than four prescribers and these abusers were more than six times more likely to have fatal overdoses than the least frequent users.

The larger nationwide study included data from annual government health surveys for 2008-2011 that included questions about use of these powerful painkillers.

"Nonmedical use was defined as use without a prescription or use with a prescription for the feeling or experience caused by the ," the researchers said.

Paulozzi said the data don't indicate whether friends and relatives who offered free drugs shared their own prescriptions or had obtained the medication in some other way.

Public health messages have urged patients with legitimate for addictive painkillers not to share the drugs and to turn in any leftovers to designated drop-off sites.

The new data suggest a need to strengthen messages to doctors to be on the watch for signs of prescription misuse, Paulozzi said.

Explore further: Many who first misuse prescription pills get them from friends, family: report

Related Stories

Drug addicts, dealers are 'Doctor shopping' for pain pills

July 18, 2013

(HealthDay)—One of every 50 prescriptions for addictive prescription painkillers in the United States is filled for so-called "doctor shoppers" who obtain the drugs for recreational use or resale on the street, a new study ...

FDA orders starker warnings on opioid painkillers

September 10, 2013

The Food and Drug Administration is requiring stronger warning labels on prescription painkillers like OxyContin, in the government's latest attempt to reduce overdose deaths caused by the long-acting medications.

US officials target escalating drug overdoses

February 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—As deaths from heroin and prescription painkillers mount across the United States, government officials are searching for ways to stem the toll of addiction.

Recommended for you

Re-framing the placebo effect and informed consent

October 29, 2015

(Medical Xpress)—Imagine that your doctor knows from evidence-based studies that if he tells you about certain, small side-effects to a particular drug, you are significantly more likely to experience that side effect than ...

Can exercise be replaced with a pill?

October 2, 2015

Everyone knows that exercise improves health, and ongoing research continues to uncover increasingly detailed information on its benefits for metabolism, circulation, and improved functioning of organs such as the heart, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.