DEA Report: Nearly 54 Percent of Prescription Drug Abusers Access Medications from Family, Friends

DEA 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment Logo

The 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment produced by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicates highly localized opportunities for a majority of those involved in the abuse of controlled prescription drugs (CPDs) to easily gain access to some of the most addictive medications on the market today. 

The report, based on data from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, indicates that “53.7 percent of people aged 12 or older who misused CPDs (i.e., pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives) reported them as ‘given by, bought from, or took from a friend or relative.’ Of these misusers of CPDs, 40.5 percent got their most recently used prescription pain relievers, ‘from a friend or relative for free.’… The majority of prescription pain reliever misusers indicated that the friend or relative obtained the drugs from a single doctor.”

The report further shares how those who recently began abusing these medications “primarily obtained prescription pain relievers from friends and family, followed by legitimate prescriptions or by stealing from a health care provider” (NDTA 2017, pp. 33-34). Although, there is documentation of some reduction in the availability of CPDs for illicit sale and abuse, new concerning trends have helped precipitate the recent declaration of the crisis of opioid abuse as a national emergency by the U.S. federal government

The data contained in this annual report also highlights the ways in which the drug landscape has shifted over the last decade, with new threats emerging in the abuse of CPDs, synthetic opioids and heroin, alongside methamphetamines and similar illegal narcotics. “With the successful reduction in availability of controlled prescription drugs, more users may shift to abusing heroin, a cheaper, easier-to-obtain opioid that produces similar effects for users of prescription drugs. Heroin and counterfeit pills laced with illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl-related compounds have entered into the drug supply, attracting unwary CPD users with lethal consequences, as synthetic opioid overdoses significantly increased in 2015” (p. 43).

The increased presence of illicit and counterfeit fentanyl is of most concern due to the near impossibility of identifying by sight counterfeit medications laced with fentanyl. “In many cases, the colorings, markings, and shape of the counterfeit pills were consistent with authentic prescription medications. The presence of fentanyl may only be determined during laboratory analysis” (p. 59). The explosion of the availability of such illicit medications has localized the addictive danger of CPDs, even as counterfeit internet pharmacies also play a role in undermining consumer safety through their selling of such illicit medications without prescription verification – a point which the DEA report also recognized.

The findings of this report highlight the value and need for easily accessible educational resources about prescription drug addiction, especially for families. They also highlight the importance of ensuring access to tools for consumers to verify that their online pharmacies are legitimate.

CSIP and its members continue to build relationships and work closely with stakeholders to respond to these needs. Our Opioid Addictions Resources page highlights options from our strategic collaborator, the Partnership for Drug Free Kids, to assist parents and others seeking to respond to children suffering from opioid or other addictions. We also curate a growing list of related services from the federal government which can provide education and assistance in the face of the opioid crisis. Additionally, the CSIP website provides other curated resources to assist consumers in ensuring their safety when purchasing prescription medications online. We have also partnered with North Carolina, Connecticut, and a growing number of state governments to provide a portal for safe online pharmacy verification at the website VerifyBeforeYouBuy.org.

As families, communities, states, and the nation look to turn the tide in the opioid and prescription drug addiction crisis, we encourage parents, consumers, and concerned citizens to become educated and take advantage of these accessible tools to help raise their own awareness and those of others about these resources for assistance.

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The Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and our member companies have the shared goal of helping address the problem of consumer access to illegitimate pharmaceutical products on the Internet. Continue to read this blog for updates on CSIP’s education, enforcement and information-sharing efforts.