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International collaboration needed to tackle prescription drug abuse

The first comparative study of prescription drug abuse in the European Union suggests the problem is bigger than previously thought.  

The first comparative study of prescription drug abuse in the European Union suggests the problem is bigger than previously thought.  


PIcture: SPL

Researchers investigated non-medical prescription drug use in five European countries – Denmark, Germany, Spain, Sweden and the UK – using data from more than 2,000 young people and 20,000 adults. 

They examined three different classes of subscription drug – opioids, sedatives and stimulants. Of the five countries studied, Germany had the lowest levels of non-medical prescription drug use, while the UK, Spain and Sweden had the highest levels. 

Non-medical prescription drug use was more common in men than women, among white people relative to non-white people, and among those who were unemployed, the researchers said. 

Having been prescribed a pain reliever was associated with an eight times higher risk of subsequent non-medical use of prescription analgesia, and the risk was ten times higher for sedatives and seven times higher for stimulants. 

The researchers also found that about 52% of non-medical stimulant users, 32% of opioid users and 28% of sedative users also consumed illicit drugs, a behaviour known as poly-drug use. Rates of poly-drug use involving either sedatives or opioids were highest in the UK – 48% for sedatives and 43% for opioids. 

‘Previously, it was thought that the prescription drug epidemic was limited to the United States, but this study shows that the epidemic extends well beyond the US,’ said lead study author Dr Scott Novak. 

Novak S et al (2016) Nonmedical use of prescription drugs in the European Union. BMC Psychiatry. doi: 10.1186/s12888-016-0909-3

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