News & Events

Prescription Drug Abuse

For more than a decade, prescription drug abuse has been on the rise in the United States. Today, prescription opioids kill more people every year than heroin and cocaine combined – roughly 15,000 annually. This is more than 3 times the 4,000 people killed by these drugs in 1999.

Rising Epidemic

There is no definitive answer for why prescription drug abuse is on the rise, but many people believe it is directly correlated to the increase in prescribing opioids. Opioid prescribing for non-cancer pain almost doubled between 2000 and 2010, while prescriptions for non-opioid pain relievers remained relatively stable during that period, according to a new study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.

Almost all prescription drugs involved in overdoses come from prescriptions originally; very few come from pharmacy theft. However, once they are prescribed and dispensed, prescription drugs are frequently diverted to people using them without prescriptions.

More than three out of four people who misuse prescription painkillers use drugs prescribed to someone else. If you have been prescribed pain killers, make sure to store them in a secure location and to dispose of them properly. Never share prescription meds with someone else.

Prescription Drug Abuse in the US

Rx Drug Abuse Graph
Image courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

While pain meds like oxycodone and hydrocodone can play an important role in helping people with chronic pain, they can also be dangerous when not monitored closely. If you have a loved one taking prescription painkillers, stay aware of these warning signs of addiction:

  • Changes in personality, behavior, or mood
  • Continued usage of the drug even after medical condition has improved
  • Defensiveness when discussing the drug use
  • Negative changes in daily habits and appearance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Taking more medication than prescribed
  • Visiting multiple doctors in order to obtain more of the drug (aka doctor shopping)
  • Purchasing drug of choice illegally – on the streets, through a friend, or online
  • Preoccupation with the pain killer, including counting pills, hiding pills, and planning activities around monthly supply
  • Withdrawal symptoms when stopping medication – intense physical pain, nausea, vomiting, cramping, and anxiety

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Get Involved

On October 1, the Fed Up! Rally for a Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic takes place in Washington, D.C. The rally calls for immediate action from our federal agencies to prevent new cases of opioid addiction, to prevent more overdose deaths, and to ensure access to effective treatment for millions who have become addicted. You can learn more about the event online at

The Steve Rummler Hope Foundation is raising awareness about the dilemma of chronic pain and prescription drug abuse. Visit the foundation’s website to learn how they are raising awareness about this issue at the state and federal levels.