Prescription drug use and types of drugs on the rise

The go-to references for measuring prescription drug use in America are called the MTF and the NSDUH reports. We help you learn more about these baseline surveys. We also present a summary of the most important statistics for prescription drug use from 2008 and 2009. Get the facts here.

minute read

Prescription drug abuse is emerging as a major health issue in the U.S. Government issued reports outline worrying trends in adolescent and adult misuse of prescriptions drugs, and seem extremely concerned about potential health risks for Americans. The most recents reports were written in 2008 and 2009 respectively, but have become the go-to references for talking about drug use. These reports include:


1. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which is a household survey distributed randomly to people throughout the U.S. to collect data on the use of tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs and mental health. The NSDUH is commissioned and paid for by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration Service (SAMSHA) but is administered by a private company called the Research Triangle Institute.

The NSDUH findings
In brief, the NSDUH found that 6.2 million people age 12 or older (2.5% of the population) used psycho therapeutic drugs non medically in the past month in 2008 and that 52 million people had used prescription drugs non medically at least once in their lifetime. You can see the trend settling into average peak values between 2007-2008, and even dropping for use of pain medications during that period.

NSDUH 2002-2008: Past month non medical use prescription
drugs for people age 12 or older


2. Monitoring the Future (MTF)  is a survey of 45,000+ 8th, 10th and 12th grade students that studies the behaviors, attitudes, and values of American youth as related to drug use. Commissioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and carried out at Survey Research Center in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan.

The MTF findings
The 2009 MTF found prescription drug use for non medical reasons generally at or a little below peak levels, but the use of Vicodin and OxyContin are of significant concern among middle and high school students.


To conclude, although prescription drug use seems to have “bottomed out” in these two important surveys, I suspect that self-reporting surveys across households is lower than in reality.  What if we were to go into doctor’s offices, emergency rooms, treatment center detoxes and gather data about prescription drugs?  We could see just HOW MANY people are being prescribed medicines and even administer random testing in public health settings.  Or how about required drug testing in schools?   All that I’m saying is that relying on self-reports is still limited.  And that I really think that more people are abusing prescription drugs than we think.

What’s your opinion?   Do pharmaceutical studies exist out there?  Do you have any ideas for new research methods?  Your comments are welcomed and will be posted here.

Reference Sources:
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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