Despite crackdowns on overprescribing, painkiller prescription and abuse rates remain highest in the southeastern United States. According to an article in Scientific American magazine, painkiller prescriptions in the southern states of Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina are some of the highest in the county—between 96 and 143 prescriptions per 100 people.1 When compared with states like Hawaii, which averages 52 prescriptions per 100 people, these numbers are significantly higher.

Short-acting pain medications are most commonly abused in the southeast. Examples include oxymorphone (Opana, Numorphan). According to the experts interviewed in Scientific American, people in the south don’t have different pain experiences than people in other parts of the country, but physicians may not have reached a general consensus regarding pain management and what conditions warrant the use of prescription opioids.

Opiate abuse has proven deadly in the southern states and beyond. The number of people in the United States who die each year due to opiate abuse has quadrupled since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common medications involved in opioid-related deaths include methadone, oxycodone (OxyContin), and hydrocodone (Vicodin).

Seventeen of the 25 top cities for opioid abuse are located in southern states.2 These include Wilmington, NC; Fayetteville, NC; Hickory, NC; and Panama City, FL. However, the city that has the highest rates of prescription opioid abuse is Elmira, NY.

The Most Common Drugs Abused by State

While painkillers represent an overarching problem in the southeastern United States, the individual drug most abused varies from state to state.3 Examples include:

  • Alabama: Marijuana is the most commonly abused drug. This is followed by cocaine and other opiates.
  • Florida: Marijuana and opiates are the most commonly cited drugs of abuse in Florida.
  • Georgia: Cocaine is the most cited drug of abuse in Georgia for those seeking addiction treatment.
  • Mississippi: Marijuana is the most commonly cited drug for inpatient treatment admissions.
  • North Carolina: Marijuana and cocaine are listed as the most commonly abused drugs.
  • South Carolina: Marijuana, methamphetamines and other stimulants and opiates such as prescription painkillers are the most-cited reasons for seeking drug treatment in South Carolina.
  • Tennessee: Prescription opiates are the most common reason a person seeks drug treatment in Tennessee.

Finding Help for Addiction

Illegal drug use is increasing in the southeastern United States and in the rest of the country. An estimated 9.4 percent of the American population has used an illegal drug in the past month, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.4

In the south these illegal drugs are often prescription painkillers, although stimulants and marijuana are also frequently abused. Whatever the particular drug, addiction can lead to legal and health problems and can prove deadly for some people.

Addiction is a chronic and relapsing disorder that can affect all people, regardless of geography, gender, and socioeconomic status. Seeking help to overcome addiction and dependence upon a particular drug or drugs can be a life-saving measure.



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