From Our 2011 Archives

Surge in Number of Americans Treated for Prescription Painkiller Abuse

THURSDAY, June 23 (HealthDay News) -- Rehab admissions related to alcohol, opiates (including prescription painkillers) and marijuana increased in the United States between 1999 and 2009, according to a new national report.

However, fewer people sought treatment for problems with cocaine and methamphetamine or amphetamines, the researchers noted.

One of the most staggering increases over the 10-year study period: opiate admissions, mostly due to use of prescription opioids, which include painkillers such as oxycodone (Oxycontin) or Vicodin (hydrocodone).

The findings showed that 96% of the nearly 2 million admissions to treatment facilities that occurred in 2009 were related to alcohol (42%), opiates (21%), marijuana (18%), cocaine (9%) and methamphetamine/amphetamines (6%).

The report from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identified trends in the reasons why people are admitted to substance abuse treatment facilities.

The SAMHSA report revealed that prescription drugs were to blame for 33% of opiate rehab admissions in 2009 -- up from just 8% a decade earlier.

Alcohol abuse also remains a serious problem. It was the number one reason for substance abuse treatment among all major ethnic and racial groups, except Puerto Ricans, according to the report. Although alcohol-related admissions dropped from 48% to 39% between 1999 and 2005, the number resurged to 42% of all admissions by 2009. Compounding the problem, 44% of those who abused alcohol admitted to using other drugs as well.

"This new report shows the challenge our nation's health system must address as the treatment needs of people with drug and alcohol problems continue to evolve," SAMHSA administrator, Pamela S. Hyde, said in an agency news release. "People often arrive in treatment programs with multiple problems -- including dependency or addiction to multiple substances of abuse."

Marijuana is another leading cause of admission to treatment facilities, jumping from 13% to 18% of admissions between 1999 and 2009. The majority of these cases, 74%, involved men, and nearly half of these patients were white. The drug was also a reason for 86% of admissions involving teens aged 12 to 17 years, according to the report.

As abuse of alcohol, marijuana and opiates rose over the decade, rehab admissions for cocaine use fell from 14% to 9%. Methamphetamine and amphetamine admissions rose from 4% to 9% between 1999 and 2005, but then settled at 6% by 2009.

"As health care reform continues to improve the delivery of health services in our country, this type of information will increasingly be used to inform the needs of an integrated system of care," Hyde stated in the SAMHSA news release.

-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas

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SOURCE: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, news release, June 23, 2011