Therapeutic opioid use and abuse coupled with the nonmedical use of other psychotherapeutic drugs has shown an explosive growth in recent years and has been a topic of great concern and controversy. Americans, constituting only 4.6% of the world’s population, have been consuming 80% of the global opioid supply, and 99% of the global hydrocodone supply, as well as two-thirds of the world’s illegal drugs. With the increasing therapeutic use of opioids, the supply and retail sales of opioids are mirrored by increasing abuse in patients receiving opioids, nonmedical use of other psychotherapeutic drugs (in this article the category of psychotherapeutics includes pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives, but does not include over-the-counter drugs), emergency department visits for prescription controlled drugs, exploding costs, increasing incidence of side effects, and unintentional deaths.
However, all these ills of illicit drug use and opioid use, abuse, and non-medical use do not stop with adults. It has been shown that 80% of America’s high school students, or 11 million teens, and 44% of middle school students, or 5 million teens, have personally witnessed, on the grounds of their schools, illegal drug use, illegal drug dealing, illegal drug possession, and other activities related to drug abuse.
The results of the 2006 National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that 7.0 million or 2.8% of all persons aged 12 or older had used prescription type psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically in the past month, 16.387 million, or 6.6% of the population, had used in the past year, and 20.3%, or almost 49.8 million, had used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically during their lifetime. Sadly, the initiates of psychotherapeutic drugs used for nonmedical purposes were highest for opioids.
Therapeutic opioid use has increased substantially, specifically of Schedule II drugs. Apart from lack of effectiveness (except for short-term, acute pain) there are multiple adverse consequences including hormonal and immune system effects, abuse and addiction, tolerance, and hyperalgesia. Patients on long-term opioid use have been shown to increase the overall cost of healthcare, disability, rates of surgery, and late opioid use.