Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. Overdoses involving prescription painkillers now kill more Americans than heroin and cocaine combined, and prescription drug misuse is now the third leading cause of accidental deaths. In the last 20 years, the consumption of prescription stimulants increased from 5 million to 45 million, and in the United States, one person dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose, a tragedy driven largely by the misuse of prescription painkillers.
Over the past decade, the proportion of students abusing or misusing prescription drugs has increased dramatically on college campuses. Between 1993 and 2005 the proportion of college students abusing prescription drugs went up dramatically:
- Opioids increased 343%, and stimulants increased 93%
- The most highly abused prescription drugs among college students are stimulants, then sedatives/tranquilizers and opioid analgesics.
Compared to the other commonly abused illicit drugs, prescription drugs are unique in that they can be obtained through legal channels. These drugs have become attractive to drug seekers and abusers because they are manufactured legitimately and prescribed by physicians, giving them the illusion of safety. In reality, the addiction and withdrawal associated with the abuse of many prescription drugs can be more harmful than that associated with illegal drugs.
With partners like the NYPD and NIDA and with financial support from Vin Gupta, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI) will address the epidemic of prescription drug abuse throughout the United States through a multi-faceted strategy. Because of the prevalence of prescription drug misuse on university and college campuses, CHMI will put a special emphasis on working in this setting. CHMI will aim to cut in half the number of young people 18 to 26-years-old misusing prescription drugs for the first time, which would save approximately 10,000 lives. Specifically, CHMI will recruit colleges and universities to address the prevalence of prescription drug misuse on university and college campuses. To achieve this end, CHMI will build the capacity of student and campus leaders to implement best practice strategies to reduce prescription drug misuse and abuse in areas such as residence halls, campus health centers, campus security and police, employee wellness, student orientation, and athletics programs. Specific strategies will include prevention education programming, student-led awareness campaigns and increased substance abuse and mental health services on participating campuses.
In addition to working with colleges and universities, CHMI will build strategic partnerships with the corporate, non-governmental, philanthropic, and public sectors to address the following priority challenges to end prescription drug misuse and abuse:
- Engage businesses that host physically demanding professions, such as energy, health care, the military, and transportation to integrate prescription drug abuse prevention and treatment support into workplace wellness efforts.
- Work with the pharmaceutical industry and others to improve supply and affordability of Naloxone/narcan, a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose.
- Engage medical associations, physician groups, retail pharmacy chains and others to expand the reach and improve the effectiveness of prescription drug monitoring programs that help detect and prevent the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs.