By: Frances M. Harding, Director, SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention

Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that an estimated 6.0 million Americans aged 12 or older misused psychotherapeutic drugs (pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives) at least once in the past month.

Prescription drug misuse continues to be a major public health problem in the United States, specifically prescription pain relievers.  Misuse of prescription pain relievers represents the second most common type of illicit drug use.  Prescription drug misuse is use of a drug in any way not directed by a doctor or other prescriber. This includes:

  • use without a prescription of one’s own,
  • use in greater amounts, more often, or longer than told to take a drug, or
  • use in any other way not directed by a doctor or other prescriber.

Of the four categories of prescription drugs presented in the NSDUH report, prescription pain relievers were most commonly misused in the past month, representing 3.2 million people.  Among people aged 12 or older who misused prescription pain relievers in the past year, the most common source for the last pain reliever they misused was from a friend or relative (53.1 percent).

To prevent misuse of prescription medications, one important action individuals can take is to dispose of unused, unwanted, or expired medications to limit the possibility of illegal use. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back Day, October 27, 2018, 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., aims to provide a safe, convenient, and responsible means of disposing of prescription drugs.  Locate a collection site near you. DEA’s Take Back Days are an opportunity for every American across the country to help address the opioid crisis by removing access to unused prescription drugs. If these programs are not available in your area, learn other safe disposal methods for prescription drugs.

By working together to turn in unused prescription drugs, each of us can help to reduce the risks of prescription drug misuse in our communities.