People might be enabling a friend or a relative who's a drug addict and they don't even know it.

Two new studies, independent of each other, have revealed the startling fact that most individuals who take opioid pain relievers for nonmedical purposes acquire the drugs from friends or relatives. A smaller yet still significant percentage of chronic abusers get the drugs from physicians who prescribe them.

Nonmedical use is defined as use of the drug without a prescription or used with a prescription for the feeling or experience caused by the drug, instead of as an actual reliever for real pain.

Leonard D. Paulozzi of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) led the first study, titled, "High-Risk Use by Patients Prescribed Opioids for Pain and Its Role in Overdose Deaths." It has been published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The researchers used a matched case-control method that analyzed prescriptions for opioid pain relievers from the Tennessee Controlled Substances Monitoring Program (TNCSMP) from January 1, 2007, through December 31, 2011.

The researchers have found that during those years, there was an increase in the rate of opioid prescription, from 108.3 to 142.5 per 100 population per year. That's a 32 percent increase annually. One third of the state's population filled an opioid prescription each year. Opioid-related overdose deaths are caused by high dosages of opioids, or dosages that are 100 morphine milligram equivalents a day or greater.

Another study, also done by researchers of the CDC, has found that individuals addicted to opioid pain relievers get their pills from friends and relatives for free. The study, titled, "Sources of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers by Frequency of Past-Year Nonmedical Use: United States, 2008-2011," was also published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The study gathered data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) from the years 2008 through 2011. It estimated that there were over 12 million non-medical users of opioids per year, and most of them reported that they got the opioids from friends and relatives, either by asking them for free, by buying from them, or by stealing from them. Doctors were identified as the source for 27.3 percent of the cases, friends and family who gave them for free accounted for 26.4 percent of the cases, friends and relatives who sold them to addicts accounted for 23.3 percent, and 15.2 percent of the cases obtained their opioids from dealers.

"Many abusers of opioid pain relievers are going directly to doctors for their drugs," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. "Health care providers need to screen for abuse risk and prescribe judiciously by checking past records in state prescription drug monitoring programs. It's time we stop the source and treat the troubled."

The CDC has also released the latest statistics on opioid abuse. Between the years 1999 and 2010, there were over 17,000 opioid-related deaths. In 2011 alone, about 219,000 prescriptions were filled by pharmacies, which was three times as many as the numbers from 1991.

In light of this new empirical data, the federal government has taken steps to control the rising cases of nonmedical opioid use. Among others, it shall track drug overdose trends to have a better understanding of the situation, and educate the public and health professionals on the drug's effects, implications, and risks for abuse.

Manufacturers of extended-release and long-acting opioids will now be required to provide their prescribers sufficient materials and training programs regarding the risks of opioid therapy. Furthermore, safe and effective pain treatment will be made available to patients in addition to programs and policies that will prevent drug prescription abuse and overdose.

Many states are undertaking the integration of a database that tracks opioid prescriptions and identifies high-risk use of opioids as well as increased access to substance abuse treatment.

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