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Prescription Drug Abuse in America

Updated on December 7, 2014

Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in society today in need of immediate attention. Abuse for prescription drugs comes in the form of overuse and improper use. Overuse has led to the development of resistant strains of bacteria and viruses that are also known as “superbugs”. Easy access and improper prescribing have resulted in widespread drug abuse. This drug abuse has led to catastrophic consequences for some individuals and their families including: drug dependency, incorrect diagnosis of illness and, in some cases, death.

Prescription drugs are legal drugs requiring a physician’s prescription that are used to treat infections and viruses. When used properly, they bring many benefits to society. They help control the spread of disease and rid the human host of the causal agent. Prescription drugs can improve the quality of life for those who suffer from mental or sleep disorders.

Prescription drugs are beneficial when used properly however, abuse of these drugs is on the rise. Better regulation is needed in order to block access. Increased diagnostic testing prior to prescription should be performed to determine if prescriptions are legitimate or necessary. Prescription cannot be limited only to cases in which the drug is absolutely necessary since some drugs benefit the patient, but are not actually necessary. The drugs should be limited to cases in which the drugs are either necessary or the prescription is legitimate for the patient’s needs and desires. Many people become addicted to prescription drugs by accident through improper use.


There are several factors to consider that help account for the rise in prescription drug abuse. This may be due to the easy access individuals have to the drugs. Prescription drugs are legal, so as long as the individual has a physician’s prescription, the drugs can be obtained at any local pharmacy. If the individual has insurance and the drugs are for medical purposes covered by their prescription drug plan, there is little or no cost associated with obtaining the drugs. The general public also views these types of drugs to be safer than street drugs since the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approves and regulates all of them. When purchasing illegal drugs on the street, users never know exactly what they are getting. Drugs are often combined or laced with other dangerous or toxic chemical substances.

Improper use and overuse can both have potentially catastrophic consequences. Overuse results in the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria and viruses also called “superbugs”. This can be very dangerous to the general public because doctors may not yet have a remedy to treat these super-infections. “MRSA infection is caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria — often called "staph." MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. It's a strain of staph that's resistant to the broad-spectrum antibiotics commonly used to treat it. MRSA can be fatal.” (Mayo Foundation, 2008) This strain of staph has emerged due to overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics, or those used to treat a variety of infections. When prescription drugs fail to be properly regulated through sufficient diagnostic testing, the end result is often a patient being treated with a drug not intended for their disease or disorder. In many cases, this worsens their condition or can lead to dependency.

Misdiagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder helps illustrate how devastating improper drug use can be. Bipolar disorder is a psychological mood disorder characterized by alternating states of depression and mania. (Rivas-Vazquez et al, April 2002, pp. 212-223) Antidepressant medications are very effective in treating the depression associated with bipolar disorder, but they can push a patient from the depressive state into the manic state. This can have catastrophic consequences because mania often includes psychotic factors and irrational thought. A person treated for depression long-term who actually has bipolar disorder could become irrational, dangerous, delusional, and hallucinogenic. The article “Current Treatments for Bipolar Disorder: A Review and Update for Psychologists” affirms that mood stabilizers tend to be more widely used than anti-psychotic medications because they treat the disorder overall as opposed to only the symptoms associated with either depression or mania. (Rivas-Vazquez et al, April 2002, pp. 212-223)


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimates that close to 20 percent of people (48 million) over the age of 12 in the U.S. have used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that nearly 3 million teenagers and young adults (those aged 12 to 25) become new abusers of prescription drugs. 56 percent of the 6 million new prescription drug abusers were over the age of 18. (Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics, 2008) This further illustrates how easy access to these drugs has become for the average individuals. It is problematic when children, those under the age of 18 have access to these dangerous substances.

It seems that pharmaceuticals companies believe that medication is the solution to every medical situation. They promote their drugs with free samples at physicians’ offices and some even offer a prescription drug discount card for those who cannot otherwise afford the drugs. There is a prescription discount card available to consumers that is sponsored by 10 major pharmaceuticals companies including: Abbott Laboratories, AstraZeneca, Bristol Meyers Squibb, Glaxo Smith Kline, Johnson & Johnson, among others. (RX Assist, 2008) Their opinion is that medicines are around because they work and society should take advantage of that. Doctors know what they are doing when the medications are prescribed. If this is the case, there would not be so many people dependant on prescription medications. Actor Heath Ledger died in January of this year from a prescription overdose. If medications were not so widely prescribed and used improperly, bacteria and viruses would not develop immunities to them.

With prescription drug abuse is on the rise, it is more important than ever to implement better regulation that will limit access of prescription medications to those who are legitimate users. Although prescription medications are beneficial to society when used properly, more diagnostic testing should be performed to determine if prescriptions are legitimate. Failure to do so has already resulted in tragedy for so many individuals and their families. How much more tragedy are we as a country willing to allow?

Do you think prescription abuse is a significant problem in the US?

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Current Treatments for Bipolar Disorder: A Review and Update for Psychologists”. Rivas-Vazquez, Rafael A.; Johnson, Sheri L.; Rey, Gustavo J. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice. Vol 33 (2). April 2002. pp. 212-223. Tools for Healthier Lives. May 30, 2008. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). Retrieved at

Microbiology: A Systems Approach. Cowan, Marjorie Kelly and Kathleen Park Talaro. February 5, 2008. 2nd Ed. McGraw-Hill.

Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics. Retrieved at


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