Analysis Confirms Majority of Americans are Misusing Their Prescriptions

Although trending down, drug monitoring lab data reveals that over half of patients in the US take dangerous medications incorrectly.

Looking to bring attention to the issue and provide new data on how prescription drugs are misused, diagnostic information services provider, Quest Diagnostics, recently published the results of a new large-scale analysis of laboratory test results from its drug-testing database. The study revealed that a majority of Americans (52%) misuse or abuse their medications with many, said Quest, taking potentially lethal opioid combinations.

Based on the analysis of Quest’s de-identified drug test data, which according to the company, is believed to be one of the largest nationally representative datasets of objective laboratory information of its kind. The “Quest Diagnostics Health Trends” study examined the results of 3.4 million tests administered by Quest between 2011 and 2016.

"Accidental drug overdose is a serious problem in the United States,” said Jeffrey Gudin, Quest Diagnostics’ Medical Advisor and Director, Pain Management and Palliative Care, Englewood Hospital and Medical Center, New Jersey. “It appears from our analysis that many patients may be at risk of overdose or other adverse health effects caused by concurrent use of opioids including fentanyl and other drugs such as benzodiazepines."

Gudin explained that CDC opioid prescribing guidelines issued in 2016, advocated for testing patients prescribed opioids to monitor for potential misuse. “These guidelines also recommended limiting benzodiazepines simultaneously to avoid dangerous drug interaction,” he said, pointing out “careful vigilance by prescribing physicians may help to offset some of the risks for patients who may be unaware of the dangers of combining these and other medications."

Although the study shows the overall rate of misuse declining (63% in 2011) it still suggests a great number of Americans are misusing drugs. According to the study, a total of 20% were taking combinations like opioids and benzodiazepines, with another 10% testing positive for alcohol and opioids and 3% testing positive for all three in their system. The study also showed that 19% tested positive for heroin and non-prescribed fentanyl.


Nigel Walker

Mr. Walker is the founder and managing director of That’s Nice LLC, a research-driven marketing agency with 20 years dedicated to life sciences. Nigel harnesses the strategic capabilities of Nice Insight, the research arm of That’s Nice, to help companies communicate science-based visions to grow their businesses. Mr. Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in graphic design with honors from London College of Communication, University of the Arts London, England.