Behind the Rise in Prescription Drug Overdoses


For other types of medication, such as the pain killer oxycodone, the reasons for use and overdose generally differ from the users of the attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder drug Adderall, though some evidence suggests that dependence often follows a prescription leading to severe withdrawal symptoms, according to Sarker.

“What is clear is that social media chatter shows that the abuse of prescription medication is widespread, and the trend is increasing,” he said. “Alarmingly, social media is also used as a marketplace for illegal trade of prescription medications.” 

Their findings “suggest that social media will be a crucial source for prescription medication abuse monitoring in the future,” Sarker added. “Using these techniques, public health professionals can identify which prescription medications are being abused and to what extent,” and this could possibly expedite actions like reformulation of abuse-prone medications.

Public health organizations might also use such techniques to identify certain demographics or periods of heightened drug abuse that they can use to tailor reduction efforts such as awareness campaigns. 

Legislation and government policies are also critical in addressing the prescription drug problem. In the Medicare study, for example, the only variable examined that was associated with reduced opioid prescriptions was regulation of pain clinics via state law. In February, a White House news release announced that President Obama had proposed funding of an additional $1.1 billion to address the prescription opioid and heroin overdose epidemic.6

The majority of the funds would help improve access to treatment, while approximately $500 million would go toward supporting current “to expand state-level prescription drug overdose prevention strategies, increase the availability of medication-assisted treatment programs, improve access to the overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and support targeted enforcement activities,” according to the statement.

On a direct clinical level, “mental health clinicians should be especially cautious when prescribing controlled substances,” because of the elevated risk in that realm, Drs Mandl and Ong advised. “Multiple provider prescribing is a risk factor that is entirely preventable with improved coordination of care and communication among providers and effective surveillance” the need for which will become increasingly urgent with the continued growth of a multidisciplinary team model of caring for patients.


  1. National Institutes of Health: National Institute on Drug Abuse. Overdose death rates. Retrieved on 3/13/16 from
  2. Sarker A, O’Connor K, Ginn R et al. Social media mining for toxicovigilance: automatic monitoring of prescription medication abuse from Twitter. Drug Saf. 2016; 39(3):231-40.
  3. Kuo YF, Raji MA, Chen NW, et al. Trends in opioid prescriptions among Part D Medicare recipients from 2007 to 2012. Am J Med. 2016; 129(2):221.e21-30.
  4. Larochelle MR, Liebschutz JM, Zhang F, et al. Opioid prescribing after nonfatal overdose and association with repeated overdose: a cohort study. Ann Intern Med. 2016; 164(1):1-9.
  5. Ong MS, Olson KL, Cami A et al. Provider Patient-sharing networks and multiple-provider prescribing of benzodiazepines. J Gen Intern Med. 2016; 31(2):164-71.
  6. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. FACT SHEET: President Obama proposes $1.1 billion in new funding to address the prescription opioid abuse and heroin use epidemic. Retrieved on 3/13/16 from