Prescription Abuse

  • Just the Facts

    Prescription medication abuse has reached epidemic levels locally and nationwide. Overdose from prescription drugs is now the leading cause of accidental death in our country, eclipsing car crashes and the combined impact of cocaine and heroin.  Death rates have more than tripled since 1990.  In 2008, more than 36,000 people died from drug overdoses, and most of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs.

    • Nearly three out of every four prescription drug overdoses are caused by prescription painkillers.  The unprecedented rise in overdose deaths parallels a 300% increase since 1999 in the sale of opioid pain relievers.
    • The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers were responsible for more than 475,000 emergency room visits in 2009, a number that nearly doubled in just five years.
    • 41% of teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer to use than illegal drugs.  Many teens experience their first high with prescription and/or over-the-counter medications.
    • 71% of abused prescription drugs are obtained from friends or relatives or the medicine cabinets of friends, parents, or other relatives.
    • 20% of girls and 13% of boys aged 9 -18 have borrowed or shared prescription medications in their lifetime.
    • 23% of students who were prescribed stimulant medications have been asked to sell, trade, or give away their medications at least once.
    • “Pharming” refers to the practice of scavenging medicine cabinets for leftover medications.  Often times, these pharmed drugs are placed in a bowl and consumed by teens at parties -- often with alcohol -- with little or no regard to the nature of the medication.

    Between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for:

    • Opioid analgesics increased from about 75.5 million to 209.5 million
    • Stimulants increased from 5 million to nearly 45 million


    Teens who learn about the risks of drugs at home are 50% less likely to use drugs.

    77% of teens reported that they have talked about the dangers of alcohol and marijuana with their parents, but only 23% of teens reported discussions about prescription pain relievers.


    • Maintain open communication about drugs and medications
    • Monitor all medication usage
    • Restrict the availability of drugs with misuse potential
    • Medications should only be taken with parental knowledge
    • If medication is needed during school, doses should be supervised by school staff
    • Properly discard unused medication


    • Screen adolescents and teens at each yearly health maintenance visit for use of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs, including misuse of prescription or over-the-counter medications.
    • Use caution when prescribing medications with abuse potential.
    • Openly discuss the risks associated with controlled drugs, contraindications, interactions with other drugs and potential side effects, if diverted, with patients and parents.
    • Involve parents in the discussion, but also talk with teenaged patients without their parents in the room.
    • Consider advocating for a statewide prescription monitoring program.  Missouri is one of only two states that does not currently have such a system.  Join other physicians, pharmacists, prevention specialists and treatment providers in this effort.

    Red Flags

    • Deterioration in home, school or work
    • Resistance to changes in therapy
    • Requests for early refills
    • Lost or stolen prescriptions
    • Unauthorized dose increases
    • Requests immediate-release compounds or specific drug
    • Doctor shopping
    • Frequent ER visits
    • Falsifying prescriptions
    • Abuse of other substances
    • Refuses or tampers with urine drug test
    • Refuses referral to specialists

     Risk Level

    History/Risk Factors


    Low Risk

    No history of substance abuse, minimal risk factors

    Treat for pain

    Moderate Risk

    Past history of substance abuse, risk factors

    Co-manage with a mental health professional

    High Risk

    Active substance abuse, high-risk factors

    Refer to a pain specialist and/or addiction specialist


    Keep medication locked up until you are able to dispose of it. 

    For a free Deterra bag to safely dispose of prescription drugs at home, call (636) 733-2136.

    For area drop off locations, click here.