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Painkiller Abuse Has Quadrupled in the Last Decade

An article from the Associated Press Oct. 31, 2003, reports that according to government figures the number of Americans who begin misusing painkillers each year has almost quadrupled from 1990 to 2001. The article noted that the conservative radio commentator, Rush Limbaugh, brought this story to the forefront with his announcement that he was addicted to pain medication and was checking himself into a treatment facility.

The AP story noted the seriousness of the problem by highlighting that most patients who become addicted have taken more medication than their doctors prescribed. Additionally, addiction can take hold quickly, within weeks, for some drugs. According to the federal government's Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 6.2 million Americans, or 2.6 percent of adults, misuse prescription drugs of all kinds. About 4.4 million of them misuse pain relievers, taking more than their prescribed amount. The rate of full-blown addiction is about 0.3 percent, but patients who don't follow their prescriptions are considered at risk. The rate of abuse has risen dramatically for such drugs. About 2.4 million Americans began misusing prescription pain relievers in 2001, almost quadrupling from 628,000 in 1990, according to the federal government's Survey on Drug Use and Health.

While Limbaugh joins a long list of celebrities who became hooked on prescription drugs, such as actress Marilyn Monroe, pop entertainer Michael Jackson, country singer Tammy Wynette and football player Brett Favre among them, the article notes that many more ordinary Americans succumb to this kind of addiction.