Prescription Drug Statistics and Facts

The U.S. government gathers statistics on drug use and abuse in America. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) tracks non-medical use and usage trends through surveys. These are published as the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).1

Non-medical use means either taking a prescription medication without a prescription, or taking it more often than prescribed. It includes those who take prescription drugs to get high or to self-treat for withdrawal from illegal drugs.1

Selected Statistics About Prescription Drugs

About 6.2 million Americans — 2.5% of the population — said they abused prescription drugs in the past month in 2008, a decrease from 2.8% of the population in 2007, the survey found.1

An estimated 4.7 million persons used pain relievers nonmedically in the past month in 2008, 1.8 million used tranquilizers, 904,000 used stimulants, and 234,000 used sedatives.1

From 2002 to 2008, rates of current use among youths aged 12 to 17 declined significantly for illicit drugs overall and for prescription-type drugs used nonmedically (from 4.0 to 2.9 percent)1

In 2008, among the 4.0 million persons aged 12 or older who received treatment for alcohol or illicit drug use in the past year, 2.2 million persons received treatment at a self-help group, and 1.5 million received treatment at a rehabilitation facility as an outpatient (Figure 7.7).1

It is estimated that more than 50 million Americans suffer from chronic pain. When treating pain, healthcare providers have long wrestled with a dilemma: How to adequately relieve a patient's suffering, while avoiding the potential for that patient to become addicted to the pain medication. (SAMHSA)

A study from the University of Michigan (2008)2 showed that by 12th grade, almost 10% of students had tried Vicodin and about 5% had used Oxycontin.

How serious is the problem of prescription drug abuse?

The exact relationship between a dramatic increase in proper use and a rise in improper use is unknown. The suspicion is that prescription drugs are seen as safer than illegal drugs and experience under medical direction may lead to more non-medical use.

From the Office of National Drug Control Policy: Prescription drugs account for the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind marijuana and ahead of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, and other drugs.

Report unlawful prescription drug sales

A source that has emerged as a supplier of pharmaceuticals for illegitimate use is online pharmacies – these sometimes combine a virtual clinic with the ability to obtain prescription drugs. If you suspect an online pharmacy of unlawful sales, you can report it HYPERLINK "" here.


  1. Results from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings
  2. Monitoring The Future: a continuing study of American youth

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