Five Things to Know About Prescription Drug Abuse

The opioid abuse epidemic claims the lives of thousands of Americans each year. Here are five facts about opioid abuse, along with what we're doing about each one. 

1. The U.S. is the world’s top consumer of prescription opioids.

Although the U.S. represents just five percent of the world’s population, we use 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone (also known as Vicodin) and 80 percent of its oxycodone (also known as Percocet or Oxycontin). While acknowledging that there are many patients in real need of pain medication, CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo has stated, “We believe it is time to institute limits on the quantity of opioids dispensed to patients who are receiving an opioid for the first time — and to ensure that the prescription fits the medical condition.”

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2. About two thirds of teens who say they abuse prescription drugs get them from family members, friends and acquaintances.1

To help prevent prescription drugs from falling into the wrong hands, we created the Medication Disposal for Safer Communities program. Through this program, police departments can apply to receive a drug collection unit to help their communities safely discard unwanted medications, including controlled substances. Since 2014, we have donated a total of 800 drug collection units to police departments in 43 states, and has collected more than 100 metric tons of prescription drugs.

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3. In 2015, more than 50,000 people in the U.S. died from drug overdoses.2 More than 60 percent of cases involved an opioid.3

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is a lifesaving drug that blocks opioid receptor sites to reverse the effects of an overdose, offering people a second chance to get the help they need. CVS Pharmacy now dispenses naloxone to patients without an individual prescription in 43 states.

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4. CVS Health pharmacists have educated nearly 300,000 students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Peer pressure, ease of access to prescription medications and a general lack of knowledge about the risks of opioid use can make for a deadly combination. Our Pharmacists Teach program provides teens with the facts about prescription drug abuse. Our pharmacists visit high school health classes on a volunteer basis, where they give a powerful presentation that includes stories of real youths whose lives were changed forever by their choice to abuse prescription painkillers.

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5. Increasing access to naloxone saves lives.

Expanding access to naloxone gives more people a chance to get the help they need: according to the National Bureau of Economic Research, five states that have adopted Naloxone Access Laws have seen a nine to 11 percent reduction in opioid-related deaths. Over the past two years, CVS Health has worked to expand access to naloxone without individual prescriptions in 43 states.

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For more information about our efforts in the fight against opioid abuse, visit our Prescription Drug Abuse information center. And to stay informed about the most talked-about topics in health care, register for content alerts and our bi-weekly health care newsletter.

This article was originally published on August 3, 2017, and was updated to reflect current data on September 21, 2017.

1 Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, 2016