Among those using illicit drugs for the first time in 2007, the most popular substances were marijuana and prescription painkillers—each used by roughly the same number of Americans aged 12 and older. Non-medical use of painkillers rose 12%.

One in ten high school seniors in the US admits to abusing prescription painkillers.

Misuse of painkillers represents three-fourths of the overall problem of prescription drug abuse. The painkiller hydrocodone is the most commonly diverted and abused controlled pharmaceutical in the US.

Methadone, once used in addiction treatment centers and now used by doctors as a painkiller, was found as the cause of 785 deaths in one state alone, Florida, in 2007.

Prescription drug abuse is also climbing in older Americans, particularly involving anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax and painkillers such as OxyContin.

In the UK, tens of thousands of people are said to be dependent on painkillers such as Solpadeine and Neurofen Plus.

Doctors and rehabilitation therapists report that prescription painkiller abuse is one of the most difficult addictions to treat.


  1. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Fact Sheet on Prescription Drug Abuse
  2. “Older Americans fight drug abuse,” 3 Jul 2008, International Herald Tribune
  3. “Methadone rises as a painkiller with big risks,” 17 Aug 2008, New York Times
  4. “Nurofen Plus to remain on sale,” 6 Aug 2008
  5. “Warning on painkillers,” 4 May 2007, Financial Times
  6. 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  7. “Depressants,” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol & Drug Information
  8. ABC of drugs,
  9. A Brief History of Opium,
  10. OxyContin Information, National Clearinghouse on Alcohol and Drug Information
  11. OxyContin: Prescription Drug Abuse Advisory, Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT)
  12. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Info Facts: Prescription Pain and Other Medications
  13. National Institute on Drug Abuse Research Report, “Prescription Drugs, Abuse and Addiction 2001”
  14. “Some Commonly Prescribed Medications: Use and Consequences,” National Institute on Drug Abuse
  15. National Institute of Justice, Drug and Alcohol Use and Related Matters Among Arrestees, 2003
  16. U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, “Drug Facts: OxyContin,” and “Prescription Drug Facts & Figures
  17. “New Report Reveals More Than 1000 People Died in Illegal Fentanyl Epidemic of 2005-2007,” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  18. “Teen OTC & Prescription Drug Abuse,”