Prescription drug misuse widespread

Prescription drug misuse

Prescription medication abuse is a top-tier issue in the United States, a fact made ever-relevant considering the results of a Quest Diagnostics Health Trends report which pegs three out of every five Americans with a history of drug misuse.

What’s more, the national study of nearly a quarter of a million (227, 402) 2012 drug tests finds that such a level of misappropriation hasn’t shifted over the years, with 2011 displaying similar numbers. According to researchers, the report exists as only the latest example of patients using prescribed medication in fashions detrimental to their health.

"Despite public education and publicity surrounding the dangers of prescription drug abuse, our study shows that misuse rates continue to be alarmingly high for opioids and other powerful medications," said F. Leland McClure, PhD, director, pain management and mass spectrometry operations at Quest Diagnostics, in a news release. "We are hopeful that recent efforts by policy makers and public and private health professionals will help to rein in the nation's prescription drug epidemic."

Drug tests of men and women, 10 years of age and up from 49 states and the District of Columbia, performed by the company’s clinical laboratories were analyzed in conjunction with Quest’s prescription drug monitoring services — clinician aids that “appropriate the use of up to 26 commonly abused prescription medications, such as opioids and sedatives, and illicit drugs, such as marijuana and cocaine.

Key findings from the study include the following:

All data and information courtesy of Quest Diagnostics Health Trends. Presentation by PhysBizTech.

All data and information courtesy of Quest Diagnostics Health Trends. Presentation by PhysBizTech.

Other results of note were listed by Quest as follows:

  • Sixty percent of patients tested in 2012 misused their medications, a slight improvement over the 63 percent inconsistency rate of 2011.
  • Substantial numbers of patients did not take their medications. Among patients with inconsistent results, about 42 percent did not use their prescribed medication, possibly due to forgetfulness, financial constraints or illegal sales.
  • The study also found that men and women misused prescription drugs equally. Although misuse rates were above 50 percent for all government and private health plan categories, Medicaid beneficiaries had the highest rates of misuse, at 70 percent.

“While we had hoped for a noteworthy decline in misuse rates in 2012 compared to 2011, this was not the case," added Harvey W. Kaufman, MD, senior medical director, Quest Diagnostics, in a prepared statment. "Not only is prescription drug misuse potentially dangerous for patients, it also contributes to healthcare waste and illegal activity. Our data underscores our nation's need for better solutions for promoting responsible use of prescription drugs."

While the study’s impressive size, objectivity and national vantage make it formidable, Quest analysts were quick to note certain limitations. Geographic disparities and the fact that services are not provided to all U.S. physicians do apply a level of restraint to the results. Nevertheless, with the CDC reporting 22,134 deaths in 2010 alone due to prescription drug overdoses — a fourfold increase over 1999 — it is important for physicians and healthcare personnel to discuss with patients the importance of prescription drug caution and adherence.

Find a copy of the full report here.