Two Thirds of Patients Abuse Rx Drugs

By McCarton Ackerman 04/26/12

Urine sample analysis unmasks the disobedient patients who fuel America's prescription drug problem.

Who's not being honest with the doctor?

America's pill popping problem has been recognized as out of control, but a new study sheds light on exactly how out of control. The clinical laboratory company Quest Diagnostics analyzed nearly 76,000 urine samples from doctors' offices and Quest's own patient service centers, and found that 63% of patients aren't following their doctors' orders. Around 40% of these disobedient patients aren't taking the painkillers, sedatives or amphetamines prescribed for them—instead they skip doses and sell their extra medications, either to make a tidy profit or to pay for the high cost of health care. The other 60% are taking meds that weren't prescribed for them. Some even combine different prescription drugs they've obtained, which can be extremely dangerous. Such behavior is consistent across income levels, gender and different levels of health coverage. “People have such tremendous access to very powerful prescription drugs,” says Jon R. Cohen, Quest’s chief medical officer. The prevalence of prescription pill abuse—most of which is facilitated by addicts' friends and family members—has led to the DEA hosting an annual National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, which will take place this Saturday for the fourth year running.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.