Collaboration in Civic Spheres

Washington near top, again, in prescription pain pill misuse

by Matt Rosenberg February 12th, 2013

For the second time in a row, Washington ranks in the top five among 50 U.S. states in the percent of people aged 12 and older who reported having misused prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet or codeine in the last year by taking them without a prescription or “simply for the experience or feeling the drug caused.” That’s according to newly published findings for 2010-2011 from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an ongoing gauge of various concerns which also revealed last fall that from 2008 through 2010 Seattle ranked second out of 33 U.S. metropolitan regions in suicide attempts.

Compared to a national rate of 4.57 percent among those 12-and-older, the rate for misuse of prescription pain medication in 2010-2011 was 5.75 percent in Washington. That was exceeded only by Colorado at 6 percent and Oregon at 6.37 percent. Idaho had the fourth highest rate, 5.73 percent, and Indiana was fifth, 5.68 percent.

The data are based on interviews of individuals across the country for the regular NSDUH survey, which is done for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and includes questions on 24 other kinds of substance abuse and mental health problems. Using a methodology called “small area estimation,” statisticians are able to develop more accurate projections of state-wide prevalences by combining survey results with county- and census tract-level demographic data. For each annual survey, the preceding years’s data is also factored in and a two-year annual average calculated.

For Washington and Oregon, the 2010-2011 results were similar to the previous NSDUH survey on prescription pain pill misuse, covering 2009-2010. In that earlier survey Oregon again had the second-highest rate nationally among population 12 and older at 6.68, and Washington was fifth at 6.2 percent.

The results are also presented by age group. Far and away the greatest misuse of prescription pain pills is among 18 to 25 year-olds. Nationally, 10.43 percent reported having done so, within the last year, in the 2010-2011 data. Washington was fifth in this age group, at 13.4 percent, and fourth among those 26 and older, at 4.28 percent. Compared to the 2009-2010 findings, rates were slightly lower across all age groups in Washington and nationally for 2010-2011.

The latest NSDUH report says, “Misuse of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana as the nation’s most prevalent illicit drug problem and is a public health concern, with approximately 22 million persons initiating non-medical pain reliever use since 2002. Data on geographic variation…are important for developing targeted prevention and treatment programs.”

Other types of prescription drugs which are used “non-medically” include central nervous system depressants, for sleep disorders and anxiety; and stimulants prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder such as methylphenidate and amphetamine. The availability of such medicines and prescription pain pills – and their potential for misuse has grown. A research report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that number of prescriptions written nationally by doctors for pain killers of the opioid class rose from 76 million in 1991 to 210 million in 2010.

Another specially-focused report from NSDUH research was released last November and showed that from 2008 through 2010, Seattle ranked second of 33 U.S. metropolitan regions in suicide attempts.

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