Urban vs. Rural? Where Is Abuse of Prescription Drugs Highest?

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The epidemic surrounding the nonmedical use of prescription drugs continues to be a concern of physicians, pharmacists and law enforcement specialists. Understanding the trends that surround the use of prescription drugs for recreation is critical for reducing the misuse of the drugs.

The National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) is a function of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The NSDUH is a survey administered to individuals 12 years and older to gather information about various drug-related topics.

The data gathered by the NSDUH is used to identify trends in the general population and among sub-groups. With the data, the analysts are able to tease out information for specific types of drugs and various segments of the population. The regular reports issued by SAMHSA assist policymakers in determining the need for adequate treatment facilities, educational programs and intervention tools.

A recent report provided information about the nonmedical use of prescription drugs, detailing the findings by the type of county the respondents resided in. While overall findings indicate a slight decrease between 2010 and 2011 in the misuse of prescriptions, 15.7 million individuals still admit to misusing prescriptions. The report from SAMHSA gives insight to further the strategies to reduce misuse further in coming years.

The report categorizes residents as living in either rural (less than 20,000 in the population), urbanized non-metropolitan, and metropolitan. The data reflects results from surveys conducted from 2005 to 2011.

Among the 15.7 million individuals who used prescription drugs in a nonmedical fashion in the past year, 6.7 million misused them during the past 30 days. The concentration of misuse was lower in rural areas when compared to misuse in urban or urbanized non-metropolitan areas. However, the past-month use was similar across all types of counties.

Similar patterns were observed across genders as well. However, age patterns were observed. The lower rates in rural areas were most observable among those aged 26 or older. Among those between the ages of 12 and 17, metropolitan areas had the lowest misuse of prescription drugs.

The survey also revealed patterns by county in the type of prescription drugs that were misused. In rural counties, there was a lower rate of use of pain relievers and tranquilizers when compared to the other two types of counties. The misuse of stimulants and sedatives was not varied across types of counties.

Approximately 1.2 percent of the respondents to the survey reported that they had initiated using prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in the past year. Initiation rates were lower among rural residents when compared to the other two types of counties.

The findings of the survey analysis show that overall, rural residents are at a lower risk of developing a misuse of prescription drugs. While the use of such drugs for recreational purposes is on a slight decline, policymakers must continue efforts and create new strategies for reducing nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

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