Prescription drugs misuse
Endemic misuse of prescription drugs has traditionally been thought of as a US affliction, but new research suggests European habits are catching up, with Britain one of the worst offenders.
A new study, based on surveys of more than 20,000 people, indicates UK adults are the most likely in Europe to abuse stimulant prescription drugs such as Ritalin and types of amphetamine.
Almost one in 10 British people aged 18 or older admitted to a lifetime pattern of stimulant abuse, ahead of Spain on 6.8 per cent and Sweden on 6.1.
The paper, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, questioned people in the UK, Denmark, Germany, Spain and Sweden, and found Spanish adults (18.3 per cent) were the most likely to abuse prescription pain killers across their lives, with British adults coming second on 14.6 per cent and Germans the most sensible on 9.6 per cent.
Long-term prescription pain killer misuse is thought to be around 20 per cent for those aged 12 and over in the US, while the new data shows European proportions to be between seven and 13 per cent. However, rates of people admitting to abusing painkillers only in year prior to questioning were almost comparable.
Dr Scott Novak, from the Biomed Central research institute and lead author of the paper, said: “This is the first comparative study of prescription drug abuse in the European Union. 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.”
Prescription drug abuse is defined as self-treatment of a medical condition using prescription medication that was not prescribed to the user, or as the use of prescription medication to achieve euphoric states. Dr Novak called for collaborations across Europe to monitor the problem and develop interventions.
His research suggests that the most common sources of misused prescription drugs was family and friends, followed by stealing drugs from other people without their knowledge.
Internet purchases were the least most common source of misused prescription drugs in Europe. Having been prescribed a pain reliever was also associated with an eight times higher risk of subsequent nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers. The risk was ten times higher for sedatives and seven times higher for stimulants.