The diversion of nonscheduled psychoactive prescription medications in the United States, 2002 to 2017

Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2019 May;28(5):700-706. doi: 10.1002/pds.4771. Epub 2019 Mar 25.


Purpose: Systematic studies of the diversion of nonscheduled drugs, except for gabapentin, are not apparent. We searched diversion case reports of all other nonscheduled psychoactive prescription drugs in the Researched Abuse, Diversion, and Addiction-Related Surveillance (RADARS) System.

Methods: Case report data are drawn from a quarterly survey of prescription drug diversion completed by a national sample of law enforcement and regulatory agencies. Rates of diversion per 100 000 population were calculated for each year from 2002 to 2017 for prescription medications with greater than 400 reported cases during the period.

Results: Cyclobenzaprine, quetiapine, and trazodone met criteria for analysis. We found a significant and steady increase in the diversion of each drug over the period. The 2017 annual rates of diversion per 100 000 population for the three medications range from 0.0428 to 0.0726. Although these rates of diversion are much lower than the rate for total opioid analgesics, they are all more than five times higher in 2017 compared with 2002. While diversion rates for opioids have decreased in recent years, rates for cyclobenzaprine, quetiapine, and trazodone have continued to increase.

Conclusions: A common attribute of the three nonscheduled drugs studied here is that all are used for the treatment and/or self-treatment of opioid withdrawal symptoms, and the increasing diversion of these drugs may be related to the ongoing opioid epidemic and to increasing levels of control over pharmaceutical opioid availability in the United States. Prescribers need to be aware of illicit markets for these medications and prescribe to their patients with appropriate caution.

Keywords: cyclobenzaprine; diversion; opioid; pharmacoepidemiology; quetiapine; trazodone.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Inappropriate Prescribing / statistics & numerical data*
  • Law Enforcement
  • Prescription Drug Diversion / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Prescription Drug Diversion / prevention & control
  • Prescription Drug Diversion / statistics & numerical data*
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • United States


  • Psychotropic Drugs