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By the Numbers: Understanding the Growing Impact of Prescription Drug Abuse

April 27, 2017 | Company News

Prescription drug abuse has dramatically increased over the last decade, affecting millions of families across the United States. In 2016 alone, more than 50,000 Americans died from drug overdoses, largely as a result of prescription opioids.

To better understand Americans’ experience with prescription drug abuse and their habits related to safe drug disposal, CVS Health published the Public Opinion of Prescription Drug Abuse and Disposal report, based on a public opinion survey conducted in March 2017.

The findings show that Americans see prescription drug abuse as a growing problem that is increasingly impacting their lives. Additionally, respondents expressed strong interest in opportunities to encourage safer storage and disposal of prescription medicines to prevent misuse and abuse.

Personal Concerns About Prescription Drug Abuse

Ninety percent of respondents say prescription drug abuse is a very or somewhat serious problem. Nearly one in three people surveyed report that they have been personally affected by prescription drug abuse, whether they themselves have struggled with addiction, or have a friend or a family member who has.

And they believe it’s getting worse. Of those surveyed, around 40 percent say that the number of people they know who have been personally affected has increased in the last year.

This is causing heightened concern about the potential for drug abuse in respondents’ own homes. Roughly a third report having unused prescription medications that they or a family member are no longer taking, and nearly half are concerned that the unused medication in their home could be abused or misused by a family member or guest.

Some of this concern is grounded in firsthand experience. One in five respondents said that they or someone they know has had prescription medication stolen from their home.

Americans Strongly Support Taking Action

Three in four respondents believe the majority or some prescription drug abuse is tied to people who take medications prescribed for someone else, such as a friend or family member. That may help explain why the majority of respondents say safe disposal is important for reducing the number of prescription drugs available.

Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed say increasing disposal sites and community drug take-back events would be very or somewhat effective in addressing prescription drug abuse. And roughly three-quarters think expanded drug education efforts for teens, parents and aging populations would be very or somewhat effective in driving change.

Repspondents were also asked to consider making naloxone (also known as Narcan, a drug that can reverse the side effects of an opioid overdose) available without a prescription. More than half believe it would be very or somewhat effective in helping to address the issue.

Our Commitment: Advancing Strategies to Curb Abuse

CVS Heath remains dedicated to helping communities across the country address and prevent prescription drug abuse. These efforts include:

  • Nearly 140 CVS Pharmacy locations will accept unwanted prescription medication on April 29 as part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. These sites supplement the more than 800 year-round drug disposal locations donated to law enforcement by the CVS Health Medication Disposal for Safer Communities Program. Since 2014, those sites have collected more than 100 metric tons of unwanted medication.
  • CVS Health is also working to increase access to the opioid-overdose reversal medication naloxone in 43 states.
  • Pharmacists volunteering through the company's Pharmacists Teach program have helped educate more than 300,000 students about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Download the Public Opinion of Prescription Drug Abuse and Disposal report.


For more information about CVS Health’s efforts to address prescription opioid abuse and misuse, visit our Prescription Drug Abuse information center.

This article was originally published on April 27, 2017, and was updated to reflect current data on September 21, 2017.