The number of drug and alcohol problems diagnosed by US doctors increased by 70% in the first decade of the 2000s, reveals a new study, just as painkiller abuse in the country reached an all-time high. The study, using data from two national surveys of doctors' visits, estimates that the number of addiction diagnoses jumped from 10.6 million between 2001 and 2003 to 18 million between 2007 and 2009. In addition, the number of visits involving a diagnosis of opioid painkiller abuse multiplied nearly sixfold in that time frame: from 772,000 to 4.4 million. "This finding is consistent with trends in substance use disorder-related utilization at the nation's community health centers and emergency departments and, sadly, use of its morgues," write the study's authors in the Archives of Internal Medicine. According to the research team led by Dr. Joseph W. Frank, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, 22.5 million people in the US are currently dependent on alcohol or drugs.
The study has its bright spots, however. Prescriptions aimed at treating drug and alcohol addiction have also increased drastically: from 643,000 between 2001 and 2003 to 3.9 million between 2007 and 2009. And the increase in diagnoses means that more people are seeking treatment for addiction, from medications such as methadone, to talk therapy. "We know that increases in prescription drug use are a big part of what's going on nationally. I also think—in our study—the availability of effective treatment is a big part of it as well and likely drawing people into care," says Frank. In more good news, the most recent national survey from SAMHSA indicated that US Rx drug abuse began falling in 2011.