Prescription Drug Misuse Problem Grows Worldwide

The prescription drug epidemic could potentially be a widespread problem.

Prescription drug misuse may not just be a problem in the United States. Researchers in a recent study found that prescription drug misuse may be a large problem in the European Union (EU) as well.

“This is the first comparative study of prescription drug abuse in the European Union,” said lead author of the study Scott Novak, PhD. “Previously it was thought that the prescription drug epidemic was limited to the United States, but this study shows that the epidemic extends well beyond the US.”

In the study, which was published by BMC Psychiatry, researchers analyzed the use of opioids, sedatives, and stimulants among EU countries. There were 2032 youths and 20,035 adults included in the study, which also participated in the European Union Medicine Study aimed at 12- to 49-year-olds.

Self-reported data about age, sex, race, and prescription drug use was included in the current study. The findings showed that Germany had the lowest rate of nonmedical prescription drug use, while the UK, Spain, and Sweden had the highest rates.

Approximately 44% of patients using opioids for a nonmedical use obtained the drugs from family and friends, and 62% of patients using sedatives reported this source as well. Taking the drugs from someone without their knowledge was the next most common source, according to the study.

The researchers found that having a prescription for pain killers was linked to an 8 times higher risk for nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

“There was a high rate of prescription pain reliever abuse in the EU. While the lifetime rates were not as high as in the US, 20% for those aged 12 years and over, compared to between 7% and 13% in the EU, the past-year rates were only slightly lower,” Dr Novak said. “This suggests that the EU may be catching up to the United States for some substances, like opioid pain relievers.”

Researchers also found that patients who used prescription drugs nonmedically were also more likely to use illicit drugs as well. However, researchers do not suggest refraining from prescribing opioids and other pain medications to treat conditions.

Identifying the prevalence of nonmedical prescription drug use is important for creating a system that can monitor trends, track risks, and protective factors that can be developed to reduce the risk of nonmedical prescription drug use, the study concluded.