Skip To Content
Cambridge University Science Magazine
Two reports in the Journal of the American Medical Association have shown a shift in prescriptions of opioids, while prescriptions for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) have gone down [1] [2]. Opioids are administered for the treatment of acute pain, as well as to alleviate the chronic and disabling pain of terminal conditions. The drugs bind to receptors in the brain, spinal cord and the gastrointestinal tract, and while decreasing the reaction to pain and increasing pain tolerance, they can also induce a feeling of euphoria [3]. This has encouraged their use as a recreational drug and may lead to opioid dependence.

Over the last ten years there has been a fivefold increase in admissions to substance abuse programs in the United States for opioid addictions. Rates of abuse are particularly high in young adults, who receive a relatively high rate of prescriptions. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine and the National Institute of Health who published the recent reports believe that one in four 18-25 year olds will abuse prescription pain killers in their lifetime. Opioid overdose has in fact become the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and its prevalence is second only to marijuana.

A number of approaches are being considered to tackle the problem, including comprehensive training for pain management providers such as medical doctors, nurses, dentists and pharmacists that will cover the latest research advances on addiction and new treatment options. Screening procedures that indentify those at risk of abuse and programs to increase public awareness are also being recommended [4].

Written by Robert Jones


  1. Volkow, N. D., McLellan, T. A., Cotto, J. H., Karithanom, M., & Weiss, S. R. B. (2011). Characteristics of opioid prescriptions in 2009. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 305(13), 1299 -1301. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.401
  2. Volkow, N. D., & McLellan, T. A. (2011). Curtailing diversion and abuse of opioid analgesics without jeopardizing pain treatment. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 305(13), 1346 -1347. doi:10.1001/jama.2011.369