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Prescription drug abuse surged 400 percent in past decade

A new White House study found a 400 percent jump in prescription drug abuse between 1998 and 2008. Experts blame a lack of monitoring programs as well as Americans' increasing unwillingness to bear even small pains.

By Staff writer / July 15, 2010

In a new White House study, a 400 percent jump in substance abuse treatment admissions for prescription pain relievers between 1998 and 2008.

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Los Angeles

Prescription drug abuse is not just on the rise – it has become a national crisis, according to a just-released White House study detailing a 400 percent increase in substance abuse treatment admissions for prescription pain relievers between 1998 and 2008.

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The report underscores the need for regulation amid a culture that has become increasingly reliant on ever-more-powerful and addictive prescription drugs, say experts.

The non-medical use of prescription pain relievers is now the second-most prevalent form of illicit drug use in America “and its tragic consequences are seen in substance abuse treatment centers and hospital emergency departments throughout our nation,” says Pamela Hyde, administrator of The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in a statement.

The statistics are being released to highlight a problem that has become all too familiar through the high-profile deaths of such celebrities as Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith. But the problem affects all ages and socioeconomic strata, says Dr. Scott Glaser, president of Pain Specialists of Greater Chicago.

From 1994 to 2003, the number of prescriptions for controlled substances rose from 22 million to 354 million annually, says Dr. Glaser. The number of admissions for misuse of prescription painkillers to hospital emergency rooms rose from some 40,000 in 1994 to over 300,000 in 2008, he adds.

“There has been a strong push among doctors in recent years to be more aggressive in addressing pain,” he notes. "This has led to the dramatic increase in opiates such as morphine, but the problem is there hasn’t been a whole lot of science to go along with that.”

The abuse of these strong drugs is an indication of a much more widespread cultural problem, says addiction specialist Clare Kavin of The Waismann Method, a treatment center for opiate dependency, which has treated many celebrity addicts.

“We are in a culture of immediate gratification and nobody will put up with even the slightest discomfort anymore,” she says. This underlying attitude leads many patients to push for stronger painkillers when lower strength – but non-addictive – drugs would have sufficed in the past, she adds.