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Criminal Justice, Public Health

Federal report: Prescription drug abuse, 2011

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According to U.S. government research on drug abuse, the number of people seeking treatment for painkiller addiction increased 400% from 1998 to 2008, and fatalities from prescription and illegal drug abuse now outnumber vehicle-related deaths in 17 states. Increases in certain crimes are also linked with prescription drug abuse, including theft, home invasions and assaults.

A 2011 research brief from the University of Michigan for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Prescription Drug Abuse: December 2011,” provides an overview of adolescent prescription drug use, both of legal and illicit substances. The report summarizes the findings of a larger report, “Monitoring the Future: National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2010,” which is based on the responses of more than 40,000 students of public and private high schools.

Key study findings include:

  • The prescription drugs most commonly abused by high school seniors in 2010 were: Vicodin (8% of survey respondents), Adderall (about 7%), tranquilizers (5%) and cough medicine (5%). Respondents also reported using OxyContin (4.9%) and Ritalin (3%) for non-medical purposes.
  • Marijuana continues to be the top illicit drug of choice for young people. Salvia (nearly 6%), ecstasy (5%), hallucinogens (5%) and cocaine (less than 3%) round out the top illicit drug choices among high school seniors in 2010.
  • A majority (70%) of respondents who abused prescription medications received the substances from friends or relatives, meaning the number of survey participants “obtaining them over the Internet was negligible.”
  • Reasons for recreational prescription drug use included false perceptions of drug safety, the desire to alter cognition and increased availability: “Between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for stimulants increased from 5 million to nearly 45 million and for opioid analgesics from about 75.5 million to 209.5 million.”
  • Accidental deaths from opioid analgesic overdoses increased sharply over the past decade, from approximately 3,000 in 1999 to more than 12,000 in 2008. The rate of heroin-related deaths has remained relatively steady over the same time period (from nearly 2,000 in 1999 to about 3,000 in 2008.)
  • The larger “Monitoring the Future” report notes the following overall trends: “For many years, five classes of illicitly used drugs — marijuana, amphetamines, cocaine, LSD, and inhalants — had an impact on appreciable proportions of young Americans in their late teens and 20s. In 2010, twelfth graders showed annual prevalence rates for these drugs of 34.8%, 7.4%, 2.9%, 2.6% and 3.6%, respectively, reflecting declines in most of them, especially for LSD. Among college students in 2010, the comparable annual prevalence rates are 32.7%, 9.0%, 3.5%, 2.1% and 1.7%; for all young adults the rates are 28.7%, 7.1%, 4.7%, 1.5% and 1.2%.”

 Tags: crime, medicine, municipal, addiction, youth

    Writer: | Last updated: January 19, 2012

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the issue-related Wyoming Tribune article “Wyoming Battles Prescription Drug Abuse.”

    1. If you were to revise the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?

    Read the full National Institute on Drug Abuse study “Prescription Drug Abuse: December 2011” (PDF).

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.