Non-Medical Use of Opioid Prescriptions Spreading Around the World

As we have found out in the US, the over-prescription of opioids has led to an epidemic of addiction, overdoses and premature death.  More than eleven percent of adults in the US report using prescription opioids for non-medical reasons.  Now, that same trend is finding its way around the world.

In a January 2017 article in World Psychiatry, Martins and Ghandour report that use of prescription opioids is a growing concern globally.  In many parts of the world, illegal drugs are hard to find so legal prescriptions "tend to be more easily available".

The authors point out that:

“Non-medical use merits particular attention given the high degree of abuse potential and numerous ill-health consequences, that vary depending on the drug. Nonmedical use of prescription stimulants can lead to irregular heart rate, hypertension, cardiovascular system failure, stroke and seizures, while nonmedical use of prescription opioids can cause respiratory suppression and overdose. Most of drug-related deaths worldwide are due to either prescription opioid or heroin overdoses. A recent review has illustrated worldwide increased rates of deaths from prescription opioids, with the exception of Australia. In Europe, prescription opioids account for three-quarter of overdose deaths, which represent 3.5% of total deaths among 15-39 year olds.”

— Martins et al, World Psychiatry, January 26, 2017

In areas in the Middle East, non-medical use of prescription drugs is rising to scary levels:

“ In Beirut, Lebanon, past-year nonmedical use of any prescription drugs was 21.6% among private university students, and 10% among high school students. In both populations, prescription opioids were the drugs most commonly used nonmedically. In Saudi Arabia, a recent school-based survey showed a lifetime prevalence of 7.2% for the nonmedical use of any prescription drug.”

— Martins et al

What makes the non-medical use of prescriptions so scary is that it often leads to abuse of street drugs.  When the supply of prescription opioids run dry, people end up searching for and finding counterfeit pain pills or heroin on the street.  The cycle continues.  It will tragic if we have to watch what has happened here at home, work its way through the rest of the world.

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