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Who’s minding the medicine cabinet? Prescription drug abuse on the rise

A generic photo of prescription drugs
A generic photo of prescription drugs
Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images

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It’s no surprise to anyone when drug addicts end up in the emergency room. But a new study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that an increasing percentage of overdoses are from prescription drugs, not illegal substances. ER visits resulting from misuse of prescription painkillers rose 111% between 2004 and 2008. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, abuse of prescription meds is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem – and several recent celebrity deaths have underscored the point. What’s behind the increase in pill-popping? Physician neglect, patient scamming – or is it the easy availability of gourmet painkillers and do-it-yourself prescription pads through the internet? Who’s to blame when patients mix, match and over-medicate? And what can the government due to cure our prescription addiction?


Peter Delany, Ph.D., Director of Office of Applied Studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), one of the authors of the report

Mark Kleiman, Professor of Public Policy at UCLA and the editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis

Joseph Haraszti, MD, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the USC Keck School of Medicine

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