When you stop and think about how widespread prescription drug abuse really is including both opioids and benzodiazepines; you just might start to worry about what’s in your home medicine cabinet.

How Big of a Problem is Prescription Drug Abuse Really?

According to CDC statistics, drug overdose fatalities are rising at alarming rates. Just look at the newest federal statistics:

  • Last year, over 47,000 people died because of fatal overdoses– the most ever.
  • The majority of these deaths were due to opioids.
  • Since 2000, the death rate due to opioid overdoses has tripled.

2012-2013, the overall opioid death rate rose by 14%, including:

  • Opioid painkillers—by 9%
  • Heroin—by 26%
  • Synthetic opioids—by 80%
  • In 2014, more than 60% of ALL overdoses involved opioids.
  • There has been a 15-year increase in fatal overdoses due to prescription painkillers.
  • In 2014, a record 28,647 people died because of fatal opioid overdoses.
  • 2001-2014, there was a fivefold increase in the number of deaths involving benzodiazepines.
  • That translates to 7945 people who perished in 2014 due to benzodiazepines.

The heroin death rate is included here because as new laws make it harder to obtain prescription opioids, more and more addicted individuals are switching to heroin, which is both cheaper and easier to obtain.

Who Does Prescription Drug Abuse Afflict?

The short answer to this question is everyone. There is no demographic safe. No age group, sex, or social status. Prescription drug abuse has affected almost every American in this country in one way or another. The following are some groups of people that are particularly susceptible to abuse:

The Elderly

The class of Americans that take the most amount of prescription medications are the elderly. Many older adults suffer from more chronic conditions. Unfortunately, many of them are not aware of the addictive side effects of some prescription medication and find themselves addicts at a much later stage in their lives.

Only 13% of the American population is over the age of 65, but they take more than one-third of all prescription medications.

Because they may usually take several different medications daily, it is easier for older adults to “accidentally” abuse their prescription drugs. More medications, taken on a frequent basis, can result in more mistakes.


Prescription medications are by far the easiest drug for adolescents to get. In most cases, they simply need to look in their own medicine cabinets. Because of this, youths are at the highest risk for addiction and overdose. Here are some current staggering facts about adolescents and prescription drug abuse:

  • In 2015, 276,000 adolescents were current nonmedical users of pain relievers, with 122,000 having an addiction to their drug of choice.
  • Among younger teenagers– 12-to-13-year olds, prescription medicines are the most typically abused drug.
  • 30% of teenagers do not think that prescription painkillers are addictive. The same percentage of teens believe that there is “nothing wrong” with the non-medical use of prescription medicines.
  • The prescribing rates for prescription opioids among adolescents and young adults nearly doubled from 1994 to 2007.
  • 5 out of the top 6 drugs abused by high school seniors are prescription drugs or over-the-counter (OTC) cold & cough medicines.

It should also be noted that most adolescents who abuse prescription medication are getting it from their family or friends.


A less discussed demographic in the epidemic of prescription drug abuse are women. Since women are more likely to experience chronic pain, they are usually prescribed the strongest forms of prescription drugs, at higher doses, for longer periods of time. Therefore, women generally become addicted more quickly than men, and at a higher rate. Some haunting statistics about how prescription drug abuse affects women include:

  • 48,000 women died of prescription pain reliever overdoses between 1999 and 2010.
  • Prescription pain reliever overdose deaths among women increased more than 400% from 1999 to 2010, compared to 237% among men.
  • Heroin overdose deaths (many a result of prior prescription drug abuse) among women have tripled in the last few years. From 2010 through 2013, female heroin overdoses increased from 0.4 to 1.2 per 100,000 people.
  • Every hour, a baby in this country is born suffering opiate withdrawal symptoms.

Prescription Drug Abuse Is a National Problem

prescription drugsWhen the use of any drug triples in the course of only 5 years, there is no other word to call it other than an epidemic—and American society is facing one right now. Between 1999 and 2013 – a total period of 15 years – the death rate caused by drug overdose more than doubled in the United States.

A disproportionately high number of these fatalities are due to the use of opiates – the class of painkiller that includes Demerol, Vicodin, and OxyContin among prescription medications (and heroin among street drugs). Some additional facts about the epidemic include:

  • In the US, overdoses of prescription medicine kill 120 people a day.
  • The Trust for America’s Health reports that deaths influenced by prescription drug misuse now outnumber those from heroin and cocaine combined.
  • In 29 states, more people die from drug overdoses than car wrecks.
  • Some reports estimate that prescription drug abuse costs over $53 billion a year in America due to criminal proceedings, lost productivity, and medical expenses.
  • In 2013, the CDC’s Prevention Status Report found that the unauthorized use of opioid medicine costs insurance companies $5 billion annually.
  • In 2010, the admission rate for opioid addiction treatment was 7 times greater than it was in 1999.

Prescription Drug Abuse Is an Epidemic in California Too

prescription pill bottlesOne of the biggest states in the country, California also has one of the biggest problems with prescription drug abuse. A 2012 LA Times investigative article found that in four Southern California counties, more than half of the accidental fatalities from prescription drug overdoses were due to a legitimate doctor’s prescription. This implies that the problem lies much deeper than simple misuse. The following are some stats on prescription drug abuse in California:

  • In L.A. County, prescription drug abuse is now the #1 reason for emergency room visits.
  • In 2012, The San Diego Substance Abuse Monitoring Program indicated that 44% of juvenile arrestees reported illegal use of prescription drugs, up from 37% in 2011.
  • According to the Department of Public Health, between 2000-2009, there were 8265 drug-related deaths in L.A. County. 61% were caused by over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription drugs.
  • According to the CDC, only 15% of prescriptions used by “problem abusers” are obtained illegally.
  • An inspection of coroner records over a 5-year period in Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, and Ventura counties uncovered the scary fact that 47% of those deaths involving prescription medication, the drug itself was the sole cause of death.

While many people can take the prescribed medications and never have a problem, those who have a history of alcoholism or drug dependence in their genetic history are more susceptible to becoming dependent on these or other drugs. We find more than 75% of clients who have come through our treatment center have a family history of addiction, and most are told by their families as reasons to seek help.

A substance abuse disorder can develop slowly. Many medications are habit-forming, and what starts out as a legitimately-needed prescription turns into tolerance, independence, and then addiction.

Do you have a prescription drug problem?

Take this self-assessment quiz to determine if prescription drugs are a problem for you.

If you feel as if you or someone you care about has a problem with prescription medications – whether benzodiazepines or opiate painkillers, then call the intake line at Lasting Recovery today. Speak to a professional substance abuse specialist to determine what type of treatment is needed.

If you are a family member, we can provide suggestions for intervention and how to help. The addicted person is more confused than the family about why they are continuing to use the drugs despite a deep desire to stop.

People can and do recover from prescription drug abuse every day. Give us a call and let us join you on your path to wellness and lasting recovery.

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