Pill abuse rife among highest- and lowest-income populations: survey

Forbes has a national survey out today examining the demographics of prescription drug abuse that finds that those at the highest income levels and those at the lowest are more likely to be taking prescription drugs than the middle class. One possible explanation: upper-income individuals have insurance, lower-income individuals receive aid and have more health problems, and middle-income individuals might face more out-of-pocket costs, so they take fewer drugs, the news outlet says.

In the early days of the prescription drug addiction epidemic, OxyContin was known as “hillbilly heroin” because its abuse was so widespread in areas of Appalachia. But in recent years, overdose deaths from painkillers have sharply risen in wealthier areas as well.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • 20.4% of those earning $100,000 – $149,000 state they take one prescription drug vs. approximately 14% of those in the other lower-income groups.
  • 10.5% of those earning $0 – $24,999 said they were taking 4 or more prescription drugs, as compared to no respondents in the highest upper-income group ($100,000 – $149,000 income category) indicating they were taking 4 or more prescription drugs, and only 3 – 5% those in the $50,000 – $100,000 ranges.
  • 34% of American adults take at least one prescription drug.
  • 11.5% of American adults take three or more prescription drugs.
  • 6.5% of American adults take 4 or more prescription drugs.

Prescription painkillers are responsible for around 15,000 deaths and 475,000 emergency room visits a year, killing more people than car accidents, according to a separate report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

About Erin Marie Daly

I’m a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. My book on prescription drug and heroin addiction was published in August 2014 by Counterpoint Press.
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