In Brief

With abuse and misuse of prescription drugs nearly doubling in the United States from 1998 to 1999, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has launched a public health initiative to raise awareness about medication abuse and stimulate more research on the topic. According to NIDA Director Alan I. Leshner, PhD, psychologists are in a key position to expand the research portfolio on prescription drug abuse.

NIDA announced the initiative on April 10, and concurrently released a research report on the health consequences of medication abuse, Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction, to help health-care providers discuss the consequences of prescription drug abuse with their patients.

"An estimated four million people age 12 or over used sedatives, stimulants, tranquilizers or opioids for nonmedical reasons in 1999," said Leshner. "The reports of increasing misuse of prescription drugs in some segments of the population--older adults, adolescents and women--are particularly worrisome because of their numbers and because those numbers appear to be increasing rapidly."

According to the report, elderly people use prescription medications roughly three times as frequently as the general population, yet have the poorest rates of compliance with directions for taking a medication.

And studies show that women are more likely than men to use the most commonly abused prescription drugs, and are almost twice as likely to become addicted to sedatives, anti-anxiety drugs and hypnotics than men are.

Leshner says psychologists are well-equipped to explore how people move from using prescriptions for medical reasons to misusing them. He adds that NIDA has a program announcement in process that will fund that type of research, as well as research on medication abuse prevention strategies, treatment and epidemiology.

As part of the initiative, NIDA is distributing 400,000 postcards with facts about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs to coffee houses, book stores, record stores and other businesses in major cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Seattle and New York, as well as Mesa, Ariz., the largest retirement community in the United States, and college campuses nationwide.

For copies of Prescription Drugs: Abuse and Addiction, write or call the National Clearinghouse on Alcohol and Drug Information, P.O. Box 2345, Rockville, MD 20852; (800) 729-6686, or visit the NIDA Web site at Prescription.html.