I have been doing some continuing education stuff lately and came across some statistics (sorry no links) collected by SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
We always think of heroin as the real “bad guy” opiate of abuse and it is. It is associated with presentation to the ER with problems of various sorts, increased risk of various infectious diseases, suicide and death. SAMHSA estimates (and admits that it may be an underestimate) that nearly 400,000 folks used heroin in 2004 (most recently studied year), including about 120,000 first-time users.
But what is even more concerning to me, 11.2 million Americans used prescription opioids for “non-medical” purposes in 2003 (most recent SAMHSA data). They estimate that there are 4.4 million “current non-medical users” in this country. Talk about a real problem with huge numbers.
Certainly this agrees with what we see through our office. Death related to non-prescription use of prescription drugs outpaces the heroin deaths we see and we see our share of both.
One last bit of data, tracked down in conjunction to a recent case: there are 185 online pharmacies and nearly 90% of them do not require a prescription to get controlled medications, including opioids. (We continue to work with the DEA on some cases related to meds obtained through this route)
So whether folks get the prescription drugs online, from their doctors, from their friends or off the streets, the illicit use of licit medications is a huge problem that many are unaware of. People just don’t think of these drugs as a problem, or a potential problem, very often. They should be used and prescribed with the proper amount of “respect”.