National drug control policy and prescription drug abuse: facts and fallacies

Pain Physician. 2007 May;10(3):399-424.


In a recent press release Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Chairman and President of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University called for a major shift in American attitudes about substance abuse and addiction and a top to bottom overhaul in the nation's healthcare, criminal justice, social service, and eduction systems to curtail the rise in illegal drug use and other substance abuse. Califano, in 2005, also noted that while America has been congratulating itself on curbing increases in alcohol and illicit drug use and in the decline in teen smoking, abuse and addition of controlled prescription drugs-opioids, central nervous system depressants and stimulants-have been stealthily, but sharply rising. All the statistics continue to show that prescription drug abuse is escalating with increasing emergency department visits and unintentional deaths due to prescription controlled substances. While the problem of drug prescriptions for controlled substances continues to soar, so are the arguments of undertreatment of pain. The present state of affairs show that there were 6.4 million or 2.6% Americans using prescription-type psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically in the past month. Of these, 4.7 million used pain relievers. Current nonmedical use of prescription-type drugs among young adults aged 18-25 increased from 5.4% in 2002 to 6.3% in 2005. The past year, nonmedical use of psychotherapeutic drugs has increased to 6.2% in the population of 12 years or older with 15.172 million persons, second only to marijuana use and three times the use of cocaine. Parallel to opioid supply and nonmedical prescription drug use, the epidemic of medical drug use is also escalating with Americans using 80% of world's supply of all opioids and 99% of hydrocodone. Opioids are used extensively despite a lack of evidence of their effectiveness in improving pain or functional status with potential side effects of hyperalgesia, negative hormonal and immune effects, addiction and abuse. The multiple reasons for continued escalation of prescription drug abuse and overuse are lack of education among all segments including physicians, pharmacists, and the public; ineffective and incoherent prescription monitoring programs with lack of funding for a national prescription monitoring program NASPER; and a reactive approach on behalf of numerous agencies. This review focuses on the problem of prescription drug abuse with a discussion of facts and fallacies, along with proposed solutions.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects*
  • Criminal Law / statistics & numerical data
  • Criminal Law / trends
  • Drug Monitoring / standards
  • Drug Monitoring / trends
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Policy / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / adverse effects
  • Legislation, Drug / statistics & numerical data
  • Legislation, Drug / trends
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / prevention & control*
  • Pain / drug therapy*
  • United States


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Illicit Drugs