A recently released report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University suggests between 1992 and 2003, more Americans were abusing controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, hallucinogens, inhalants and heroin put together.
According to the study, the number of Americans who admit abusing prescription drugs almost doubled to over 15 million from 1992 to 2003, with abuse among teenage figures tripling.
Joseph Califano, chairman and founder of the center and a former health secretary, says the nation is in the midst of an epidemic of controlled prescription drug abuse and addiction.
Califano says that abuse of prescription opioids among teenagers, has risen by an astounding 542 percent, and the explosion in the prescription of addictive opioids, depressants and stimulants has, for many children, made the medicine cabinet a greater temptation and threat than the illegal street drug dealer.
The basis of the report was surveys of doctors and pharmacists, personal interviews and focus groups, and an analysis of national household surveys and census data.
There are apparently hundreds of web sites advertising and selling controlled drugs, often without prescription and regardless of age, and teenagers and children can easily obtain them.
The most likely drugs to be abused were opioids, or pain relievers such as OxyContin or Vicodin; central nervous system depressants such as Valium or Xanax; stimulants including Ritalin or Adderall and anabolic-androgenic steroids like Anadrol or Equipoise.
The report says the problem can be seen in all sections of the community, across all age groups, ethnic groups and in all socio-economic groups.
In 2003, 2.3 million 12 to 17 year-olds (almost one in 10) abused least one controlled prescription drug. Girls were more likely than boys to be abusers.
The report says that teenagers who abuse drugs are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times as likely to use marijuana, 12 times likelier to use heroin and 21 times likelier to use cocaine than teens who do not abuse such drugs.
In the year 2002 alone, controlled drugs were implicated in almost 30 percent of drug-related emergency room deaths, while the number of prescription drug emergency room mentions in hospital logs increased by nearly 80 percent.
Law enforcement officials around the country have been fighting an epidemic of prescription drug abuse, especially of powerful pain killers.
The report also found a 140 percent rise in self-reported abuse of such pain killers from 1992 to 2003, disproportionately concentrated in the south and west of the country.