Prescription Drug Abuse in America

By: Robert P. Bianchi

Prescription drug abuse is second only to the abuse of marijuana, far ahead of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine 1  The abuse or misuse of prescription drugs is so severe that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has characterized prescription drug overdose as a public health epidemic.  Data from 2011 show that approximately 6.1 million Americans reported that they used prescription drugs non-medically in the past month2.In 2011, 2.3 million Americans aged 12 or older used these medications non-medically for the first time, the largest share of whom (1.9 million) started with pain relievers, most of which contained opioids like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, and methadone 3.There are also indications that for some, oral prescription opioid abuse is followed by injection of opiates and eventual use of heroin.  In 2010 more than 38,300 Americans died from drug overdose, with prescription drugs—particularly opioid pain relievers were involved in 16,600 of those deaths 2 .This means that on average more than 100 Americans die from drug overdoses every day in this country. Opioid pain relievers are now involved in more overdose deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. All drug overdose deaths now even outnumber deaths from gunshot wounds or from motor vehicle crashes 4 .140213_IDenta_001905

Over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or from the Internet 1. Doctors frequently write prescriptions for more tablets than are actually used and many people save the excess “in case they are needed later”.  The prescription vials in our medicine cabinets, are often the source of free drugs for young abusers seeking the euphoric effect of drug abuse. Many believe because the medication is FDA approved, prescribed by a doctor and used by relatives, it is safe for experimentation. Prescription medications, especially pain relievers, must be safeguarded to prevent misuse or abuse and children must be made aware of the dangers of prescription drug abuse.


1. Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH): National Findings, SAMHSA (2010).

2.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics .Data on under­lying cause of death 2000-2010 from the CDC WONDER online database.

3.  Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.(2012).Results from the 2011 national survey on drug use and health: Summary of national findings.

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.(2012).National vital statistics reports: Deaths: Final data for 2009



Mr. Bianchi began his career as an analytical chemist for a pharmaceutical company and the Food and Drug Administration. After 34 years of federal service (31 years with DEA) in a number of increasingly responsible positions as an analytical chemist, laboratory supervisor, headquarters program manager, director of the New York Laboratory, chief of DEA laboratory operations section and director of the DEA Special Testing and Research Laboratory where in depth examinations of drug substances for DEA’s drug intelligence programs were developed and performed.  Earlier in his career he participated in the seizure of many clandestine drug laboratories and developed a clandestine laboratory safety kit for use by Special Agents & chemists seizing clandestine drug laboratories.

Mr. Bianchi served as a subject matter expert for United Nations meetings on Methamphetamine profiling (1998, Tokyo, Japan), Drug Analysis Method Validation (1996, Beijing, China) & Analytical Methodology for the Analysis of Seized Drugs (1994, Helsinki, Finland).

Mr. Bianchi is currently the senior forensic advisor in Turkmenistan for the International Criminal Investigators Training Program.  In this capacity he is providing management and technical assistance to forensic laboratories of the Government of Turkmenistan.  He also participated in the independent investigation of the Houston Police Department crime laboratory and property room as well the New York City Police Department Drug Laboratory.

He is a former Board member of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), chaired the ASCLD Awards committee and is an ASCLD/LAB trained inspector. Mr. Bianchi is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and retired emeritus member of ASCLD.

Mr. Bianchi is currently president of Bianchi Consulting, providing consulting services, assessments and training to foreign and domestic forensic laboratories.  He is also vice president and chief of scientific and technical affairs for the Prescription Drug Research Center, LLC., providing technical support to a variety of abuse deterrent formulation projects dealing with the chemistry & extractability of prescription & non-prescription drugs.


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