The misuse and abuse of drugs is a crisis in our country and around the world. By 2020 mental health and substance abuse disorders will surpass all physical diseases as a major cause of disability worldwide. Abuse of prescription drugs / drug diversion is the largest drug problem in the United States, and one that is growing. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people from all age groups, ethnic backgrounds, and genders are affected by this disease.
The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) indicates 28.6 million people aged 12 or older used an illicit drug in the past 30 days, which corresponds to about 1 in 10 Americans overall (10.6%) and an estimated 11.8 million people misused opioids in the past year, including 11.5 million pain relief misusers and 948,000 heroin users.
Additional information was gathered in NSDUH for the misuse of pain relievers in 2017. Among people aged 12 or older who misused pain relievers in the past year, about 6 out of 10 people indicated that the main reason they misused the last time was to relieve physical pain (62.3%), and about half (53.0%) indicated that they obtained the last pain relievers they misused from a friend or relative (SAMHSA, 2017b).
Accidental overdose and misuse of prescription drugs leads to the severe consequences of death and addiction. In 2016, there were more than 63,600 drug overdose deaths in the United States. The age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths in 2016 (19.8 per 100,000) was 21% higher than the rate in 2015 (16.3) (Hedegaard et al., 2017). The New York Times recently reported that opioids are now the leading cause of death of Americans under the age of 50 (Katz, 2017).
Defining the Problem
Health professionals face a dilemma because their patients often need prescription drugs but they also face a need to prevent the diversion and misuse of drugs. Among the prescription drugs diverted and misused are pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives. Opioid analgesics are powerful painkillers medically indicated in the treatment of chronic pain; however, when the patient takes the wrong dose, or the wrong person takes the opioid pain medication, the consequences can be deadly.
While the sales of opioid analgesics increased 4-fold between 1999 and 2010, the United States concurrently experienced an almost 4-fold increase in opioid overdose deaths (SAMHSA/NSDUH, 2014). Other consequences of the abundance of opioids include emergency department visits and admissions, falls and fractures in older adults, and initiating injection drug use, which increases risk for infections such as hepatitis C and HIV.
West Virginia’s SB437 is a response to the state’s need for additional education about drug diversion and abuse mitigation. The following are some statistics for West Virginia:
- In 2016, West Virginia had the highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in the United States—a rate of 52.0 deaths per 100,000 population, which is up from 1.8 deaths per 100,000 in 1999.
- The peak number of overdose deaths was 733 in 2016. The majority of these deaths were from synthetic opioids and heroin.
- Since 2010 deaths related to synthetic opioids quadrupled from 102 to 435 and deaths related to heroin rose from 28 to 235.
- In 2013 West Virginia providers wrote 110 opioid prescriptions per 100 persons (2.8 million prescriptions). The average U.S. rate for opioid prescriptions was 70 per 100 persons in the same year (NIDA, 2018).
- West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) county-level Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS)* data for 2017 shows the overall incidence rate of NAS was 50.6 cases per 1,000 live births (5.06%) for West Virginia residents (WV DHHR, 2018).
* Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) is a withdrawal syndrome that occurs after prenatal exposure to drugs is discontinued suddenly at birth.
What is the role of clinicians in the problem of prescription drug diversion, misuse, and abuse? Clinicians are in a unique position to educate, identify, and intervene with patients and colleagues who are at risk for prescription drug misuse and abuse. Recognizing the signs of misuse and risk factors of drug abuse and diversion by patients and fellow healthcare professionals is an important responsibility of all clinicians. Educated health professionals can be instrumental in changing patterns of misuse and abuse of prescription drugs for individuals, colleagues, and communities, and thereby reducing the public health epidemic.
Glossary of Terms
Aberrant drug-related behaviors: any medication-related behaviors that depart from strict adherence to the physician-prescribed plan of care, ranging from mildly problematic behavior (such as hoarding medications) to illegal acts (such as selling medications).
Addiction: a primary, chronic, neurobiologic disease whose development and manifestation is influenced by genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors. Addiction behaviors often include impaired control over use, compulsive use, continued use despite resulting harm, and craving (Corsini & Zacharoff, 2014). Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DMS-5) does not use the term addiction for diagnosis (SAMHSA, 2018).
Abuse/nonmedical use: Abuse is the use of an illicit drug or the intentional self-administration of a prescription (or over-the counter) medication for any nonmedical purpose, such as altering one’s state of consciousness, eg, “getting high.” However, some critics dislike the term abuse being applied to substance use disorders and claim it is inaccurate and reflects morality-based language to depict what may actually be a medical condition (Corsini & Zacharoff, 2014).
Chronic pain: any pain that lasts several months (variously defined as 3 to 6 months), but may last for months or years. Whereas acute pain is a normal sensation that alerts the body to injury or damage, chronic pain persists. Chronic pain may result from an injury or an ongoing cause such as illness, or there may be no clear cause (NIH, 2018).
Diversion: the intentional removal of a medication from legitimate distribution and dispensing channels. Diversion also involves the sharing or purchasing of prescription medication between family members and friends or individual theft from family and friends (Corsini & Zacharoff, 2014). Diversion can also occur in healthcare settings if health professionals divert medication from the intended recipient.
Opioid use disorder (OUD): per the DSM-5, a disorder characterized by loss of control of opioid use, risky opioid use, impaired social functioning, tolerance, and withdrawal. Tolerance and withdrawal do not count toward the diagnosis in people experiencing these symptoms when using opioids under appropriate medical supervision. OUD covers a range of severity and replaces what DSM-IV termed “opioid abuse” and “opioid dependence.” An OUD diagnosis is applicable to a person who uses opioids and experiences at least 2 of the 11 symptoms in a 12-month period (SAMHSA, 2018).
Misuse: any therapeutic use of a medication other than as directed or indicated, whether intentional or unintentional, and regardless of whether it results in harm. Increasing a medication dose without prescriber approval is misuse, whether the reason is dependence, tolerance, desire to achieve greater therapeutic effect, or forgetfulness (Corsini & Zacharoff, 2014).
Physical dependence: a state in which the body has adapted to a drug or class of drugs to the degree that withdrawal syndrome occurs upon abrupt cessation, rapid dose reduction, decreasing blood level of the drug, and/or administration of an antagonist (Corsini & Zacharoff, 2014).
Drug abuse is not a new problem. The United States Congress passed the first Controlled Substances Act in 1970, but addictive drugs were first outlawed in America in the early 1900s. The Controlled Substances Act presents schedules numbered I, II, II, IV, and V.
Controlled Substances, 2018
Medical use/abuse potential
No accepted therapeutic use. Lack of safety even under medical supervision. High potential for abuse; abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence
Accepted therapeutic use. Highly restricted. High potential for abuse; abuse may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence
Accepted therapeutic use. Highly restricted. Less high potential for abuse; abuse may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.
Accepted therapeutic use. Low potential for abuse relative to Schedule I, II, and III drugs; abuse may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence.
Accepted therapeutic use. Low potential for abuse relative to Schedule I, II, III, and IV drugs; abuse may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence.
On August 22, 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) formally rescheduled hydrocodone combination products (HCPs), moving them from Schedule III to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act.Back Next