What Impact Does Prescription Drug Abuse Have on General Health Outcomes?

It’s well known that involvement in prescription drug abuse drastically increases the risks for health problems directly attributable to substance intake. However, researchers and public health officials don’t have a lot of information on how the abuse of a medication alters the general measurements of a person’s health. In a study scheduled for publication in 2014 in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from two U.S. institutions used information from large-scale federal project called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to identify common patterns of prescription drug abuse, then used a screening tool called the Short Form Health Survey to quantify the general health risks associated with these patterns.

NESARC and Prescription Drug Abuse

The National Epidemiologic Survey was conducted in two separate phases in the first decade of the 2000s as part of an attempt to identify the magnitude of the problems with alcohol-related harm, drug- and medication-related harm and a host of associated concerns in the U.S. The first phase of the survey, conducted in 2001 and 2002, consisted of the collection of detailed data on 43,093 men and women from a broad spectrum of racial/ethnic backgrounds. The second phase of the survey, conducted in 2004 and 2005, functioned as a large-scale follow-up that allowed the federal researchers behind the project to track any major changes in the common trends identified during the survey’s initial phase. A total of 34,653 people completed both phases of the survey. Among its many findings, the NESARC project contained estimates of the number of Americans involved in prescription drug abuse, as well as a record of the changes in prescription drug abuse trends between the survey’s first and second stages.

The Short Form Health Survey

The Short Form Health Survey is a screening tool designed to give doctors a brief, handy way to record their patients’ general state of physical and mental wellbeing. The tool comes in two main forms: a 36-question version commonly known as SF-36 and a 12-question version commonly known as SF-12. In addition, the SF-36 screening and the SF-12 screening are both available in a form that inquires about a person’ health over the last month, as well as in a second form that inquires about a person’s health over the last week. An even shorter version of the tool, called SF-8, is sometimes used. When an individual takes the Short Form Health Survey at least twice at different time intervals, results from one screening to the next can indicate no change in health status, an improvement in health status or a decline in health status.

Health Impact of Medication Abuse

In the study scheduled for publication in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, researchers from Texas State University and the U.S. Census Bureau used data from the first phase of the NESARC project to identify people affected by prescription opioid abuse, prescription stimulant abuse and the abuse of prescription medications called sedatives and tranquilizers. In addition, they used data from the second phase of NESARC to determine which people still had problems with these issues and which people had ceased their involvement in prescription drug abuse. In addition, they identified newly affected individuals who did not abuse prescription medications when the NESARC project began. Next, the researchers collated their NESARC findings with recorded results of the 12-question version of the Short Form Health Survey.

After reviewing all of the gathered data, the researchers concluded that, among prescription medication abusers, the people most likely to experience fairly large reductions or fairly small improvements in their general health were those individuals who started their medication misuse between the first and second phases of NESARC. Conversely, those abusers who experienced the smallest declines or the largest improvements in general health were those individuals who quit their involvement in medication misuse between the first and second NESARC phases. The members of this second group had scores for general physical and mental health that roughly equaled the scores achieved by people who have never had any problems with prescription drug abuse. Prescription medication abusers who didn’t change their habits between the two phases of NESARC experienced changes in their general health that were less prominent than those experienced by people who started abusing medications or stopped abusing medications over the course of the NESARC project.

The study’s authors believe that their findings underscore the health-related importance of preventing involvement in prescription drug abuse, as well as the health-related importance of getting current abusers to quit.

By: Gideon Hoyle 

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