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Prescription Drugs, Binge Drinking Trends: Substance Abuse Surprises?

Substance abuse demographic trends involving prescription drugs and binge drinking may surprise you.  A 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the first of its kind, detailed the socioeconomic and racial disparities in an extensive range of health problems.  Some trends remained the same across the board, and fairly obvious, such as “the poor, the uninsured and the less educated tend to live shorter, sicker lives” (New York Times).

For example, obesity and tobacco use were worse among individuals with low incomes, who lacked education or health insurance. While the opposite was true of binge drinking. Consuming more than four drinks for women and five for men in one sitting constitutes binge drinking. The study not only found that binge drinking was one the rise across the board, but that it was more common among those with higher incomes and better education, including college students. However, those with lower incomes, especially among American Indians, tended to consume more alcohol when they binge drink. (New York Times)

Another trend that has changed is prescription drug overdoses kill more people now than illegal drug overdoses (the opposite from 20 years ago). Prescription drug overdose death rates are now higher among White, non-Hispanics than other groups (a trend that shifted in 2002). One reason given for this: “doctors began prescribing stronger painkillers, antidepressants and antipsychotics, more easily obtained by people with health insurance” (New York Times).

This report came in January 2011, the same time the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  issued new, strict limits on the common ingredient acetaminophen found in prescription painkillers. In 2009, an advisory panel recommended that the FDA remove acetaminophen entirely from painkillers. The FDA has decided to allow prescription painkillers to contain 325 milligrams (about half of what they contain today). Companies have three years to adjust their product’s formula or remove it from the market. More than 200 million painkiller prescriptions are written each for Americans.

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