Over 16 million Americans – a shocking 6.4 per cent of the population – regularly abuse prescription drugs, a UN survey has found.
According to the UN report, the abuse of prescription drugs is the fastest-growing drug related problem in the country – with the number of addicts far outstripping those who use cocaine.
The annual UN International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) report found that the ‘non-medical’ use of pain relievers, tranquillizers, stimulants and sedatives had risen from 15.2 million in 2008 to 16 million in 2009.
It was also revealed that among those who received opium based pain relief, the number who were subsequently treated for the abuse of pain relievers more than tripled from 1998 to 2008, reaching 26.5 per cent, the report found.
And between 2007 to 2009, the percentage of state and local law enforcement agencies reporting prescription drugs as the greatest drug-related threat to their areas more than doubled.
At the same time the number of Americans who use cocaine fell from 5.3 million in 2008 to 4.8 million in 2009.
The fall was attributed to a number of factors including, crucially, less cocaine abuse, decreased illicit cocaine manufacture in Colombia and sustained pressure on drug trafficking organisations in Mexico.
The INCB report is an annual worldwide survey of drug production, consumption and distribution by the UN drug agency.
The shocking figures come after fears that ‘pill-mills’ – clinics that illegally or carelessly issue prescription pain killers – continue to feed addiction in the U.S.
Only last month, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the illegal abuse of prescription drugs is Florida’s ‘greatest public health threat.’
It was reported that there were 1,167 registered pain clinics in the state compared to 860 McDonald’s restaurants.
The agency added that seven people die in Florida state every day due to prescription drug abuse.
Speaking yesterday, newly appointed House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers said the Justice Department had not been doing enough to stop the flow of illegally obtained prescription drugs.
He said: ‘It’s an absolute disgrace’ with so many people involved in the illicit trade flying back and forth to Florida that ‘they call it the OxyContin Express.
‘Crook doctors operating these pill mills’ are out of control.’
OxyContin is a prescription medication used to relieve moderate to severe pain.
It is one of the main prescription drugs that users become addicted to.
Last year it was reported that U.S. prescription drug sales climbed by 5.1 percent to $300.3 billion in 2009 – dwarfing the meagre 1.5 per cent rise the year before.
The prescription drugs involved are primarily opium derived pain relievers containing codeine, fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, oxycodone, dextropropoxyphene, methadone or hydrocodone.
Aside from the prescription drug problem, the U.N. survey found that the United States continued to be the main country of destination for illicit drug shipments.
It said: ‘In 2009 the number of drug-related deaths increased sharply in the United States.
‘The Board is also deeply concerned about the fact that the United States recorded for 2009 an increase in the abuse of all drugs except cocaine.’
According to the results an estimated 38 million people, 15.1 per cent of the population used illicit drugs in 2009.
That represents an increase of 2.5 million people from 2008 and a reversal of the declining trend in illicit drug use in the preceding years.
Investigators added that they were concerned by the increasing number of young people using cannabis and prescription drugs containing controlled substances.
The report added it was: ‘Deeply concerned about ‘medical’ cannabis schemes, which so far have been introduced in 14 states in the United States.
‘The control measures applied in those states to the cultivation of cannabis plants and the production, distribution and use of cannabis fall short of the control requirements.’
The news comes as the Food and Drug Administration said today it will remove around 500 unapproved cold and allergy medications from the market as part of an ongoing crackdown on ineffective prescription drugs.
The FDA requires companies to submit all new prescription drugs for scientific review before they are launched.
However, thousands of drugs actually pre-date the FDA’s drug regulations and have escaped scrutiny for decades.
Most of the drugs targeted by the latest action are pills using untested combinations of decongestant and cough-suppressing ingredients.