Risk Factors for Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic levels not only in the United States but in the United Kingdom as well. Recent UK research has focused to identify specific triggers for prescription pain reliever addiction. The University of Derby conducted a three month study using an anonymous online survey which identified 112 patients taking prescription pain medications for chronic pain. The survey asked respondents to gauge their pain level, how often they felt pain and how many pills they took. They also asked participants to describe how their pain impacted their feelings and whether they had a personal history of prior substance abuse. Prescription painkillers like Oxycodone and Hydrocodone are the most commonly abused legal drugs, followed closely by prescription drugs used to treat anxiety. In Britain more than 1 million people are addicted to prescription sedatives or painkillers, and just like in the US, the number of prescription drug abusers outstrips those abusing illegal street drugs. Using the survey as their guide, the researchers outlined three factors which make it more likely that a person will become addicted to prescription painkillers:

  1. The more pain medications used, the greater the risk
  2. Personal history of substance abuse
  3. Emotional distress; inability to deal with pain or identify feelings.

The Derby researchers hope further studies will work with larger samples and target groups most at risk for addiction to painkillers, such as patients dealing with chronic pain, and also focus on psychological risk factors. Their own study shows that pain is real, but not everyone relates to that pain in the same way – a person’s emotional reaction to pain is a risk factor and deserves further investigation. Meanwhile, British lawmakers want to squelch the problem of doctor shopping, where addicts visit multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple prescriptions. A number of US states have implemented electronic prescription drug monitoring programs to control doctor shopping. Viable solutions will probably require changes on several fronts: prescribing practices, better monitoring, education and identifying at-risk groups.

Scroll to Top