Prescription Drug Abuse

PhRMA Helps Combat Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse continues to be a significant national problem, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) remains deeply committed to fighting it. Through community education and collaboration with community leaders, PhRMA members are doing their part in helping to prevent and reduce drug abuse.

Prescription medications are generally safe, but only when they are taken as prescribed and for the intended purpose. When they are abused—taken in ways that are not prescribed—they can cause an array of adverse health effects, including overdose. The risk of injury or death is even greater when prescription medications are abused alongside other drugs or alcohol.

How prescription drugs are abused

Prescription and OTC drugs may be abused in one or more of the following ways:

  • Taking a medication prescribed for somebody else.
  • Taking a drug in a higher quantity or in another manner than prescribed.
  • Taking a drug for another purpose than prescribed.

How big is the problem

According to the most recent national data, prescription medicines are the most commonly abused substance after marijuana. In 2011, more than six million Americans over age 12 reported abusing prescription drugs during the previous month.

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) notes that the three types of prescription drugs most commonly abused are:

  • opioids
  • central nervous system (CNS) depressants
  • stimulants

While many of these abused medicines are produced by major pharmaceutical companies and feature recognizable brand names, it’s important to recognize that the overwhelming majority of prescriptions filled at the retail level are filled with generic medicines. In 2011, only 9% of prescriptions filled at the retail level use brand-name medications.

What PhRMA is doing about it

Addressing the problem of prescription drug abuse is a shared responsibility, and there is no single solution. Government agencies at all levels, the  American Medical Association, law enforcement, faith-based and other community organizations, pharmacists, schools, and parents must all work together to prevent misuse of prescription drugs.

The pharmaceutical industry partners with several stakeholders on programs that work to reduce prescription drug abuse and prevent prescription medicines from getting into the wrong hands. PhRMA initiatives aim to:

  • Promote secure storage of prescription medicines,
  • Educate about the safe disposal of unused or expired prescription medicines, and
  • Strengthen law enforcement penalties for the diversion of prescription drug to unintended parties.

PhRMA promotes safe disposal of prescription medication

Unused portions of medications provide opportunities for abuse. For this reason as well as environmental concerns, PhRMA helps educate consumers about proper disposal of medications.

  • PhRMA partners with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the American Pharmacists Association on the SMARxT Disposal Program. This program informs people how to promptly and safely dispose of medicines in the trash.
  • PhRMA supports the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) National Take-Back Day. The DEA’s National Take Back Day allows patients to drop off expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs—which will be collected and destroyed by local law enforcement officials—at designated sites nationwide. The program is secure, free and anonymous.
  • PhRMA supports the American Medicine Chest Challenge (AMCC), a community-based public health initiative with law enforcement partnership designed to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. The AMCC provides a nationwide day of disposal of unused, unwanted and expired medicine held in communities across the country.

PhRMA supports efforts to prevent prescription drug abuse

Alongside our efforts to ensure safe medicine disposal, PhRMA is engaged in programs working to prevent prescription drug abuse through patient and community education programs.

  • PhRMA is a key partner with The Partnership at (formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America), which helps parents prevent, intervene in, and find treatment for drug and alcohol use by their children. Collaborative efforts include developing appropriate educational materials and tracking attitudes toward prescription drug abuse among teens and other target groups.
  • The Partnership has also developed, in concert with our member companies, a program called Rx 360. With funding from the Department of Health and Human Services and Purdue Pharma, this program trains local prevention and treatment experts to educate parents about teenage prescription drug abuse and how to prevent this behavior.

PhRMA’s principles on prescription drug abuse

PhRMA has developed the following guiding concepts for a comprehensive national strategy to reduce and prevent prescription drug abuse:

  • Educate the public regarding the dangers of misusing and abusing prescription medicine. Equip parents, grandparents, teachers, and healthcare providers with the necessary knowledge and skills to deter prescription drug abuse, identify those in need of treatment, and provide appropriate treatment options to them.
  • Ensure that policies to prevent prescription drug abuse also protect patients with a legitimate need for prescription medications.
  • Promote a comprehensive approach and sustained commitment from all relevant healthcare stakeholders. These include federal, state, and local governments, brand-name and generic drug companies, healthcare providers, educators, family members, and others across the community.

These principles are consistent with many of the recommendations from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Six strategies to combat drug abuse

PhRMA has identified six specific policy strategies for reducing and preventing prescription drug abuse.

  1. Expand educational and awareness efforts for the public, healthcare stakeholders, and others.
  2. Enhance efforts to promote prevention, screening, intervention, and referral for treatment of prescription drug abuse throughout the healthcare system.
  3. Assess the effectiveness of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) and explore enhancements.
  4. Address challenges related to the research and development of new medicines to treat addiction and medicines with a reduced potential for abuse.
  5. Promote the enforcement of existing laws that can help deter abuse of prescription drugs as a key law-enforcement priority.
  6. Expand educational efforts related to the proper disposal of unused and expired prescription medicines and secure storage of prescription medicines.

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