Prescription Drug Abuse Across the States; Areas Most Affected

America’s Most Affected Areas of Prescription Drug Abuse. Earth night shot from space

The United States is the land of the free, the home of the brave, where all men, women, and children are treated equally. From the furthest reaches of the West Coast to the tip of Key West, Portland, Maine to Fairbanks, Alaska, sunny San Diego, California to the shores of the Hawaiian Islands, America is the country of equality amongst all. Yet, when it comes to substance abuse and the nation’s 21st-century drug addiction epidemic, it would not seem that equality is the keynote of the crisis. Depending on where one lives, depending on the state, the city, the demographic, even the neighborhood one is in, drug addiction wears an entirely different face.

Even with something as specific and detailed as the U.S. prescription drug abuse epidemic, drug and alcohol addiction becomes very detailed and exact. Every U.S. state does not experience prescription drug abuse in the same way as the next. Every U.S. city does not have the same prescription drug problem as the next city over.

How Prescription Drug Abuse Differs, One Area to the Next

Prescription drugs in Florida

Studies show that doctors in some states seem to be far freer in their prescribing trends than others are. This leads to a wide disparity in prescription drug abuse amongst geographic areas. For example, according to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, no less than ninety of the top prescribing doctors for prescription drugs are in Florida. One state, yet it is home to ninety percent of the top opioid pharmaceutical prescribing doctors in the nation. Do Floridians really suffer from that much more pain than the rest of us? Unlikely.

Take another state for example. Alabama has the highest number of narcotic prescriptions per capita of all states. It prescribes three times as many pharmaceuticals per capita as the lowest prescribing state, which is Hawaii. Alabama is also in the top five most addicted states when it comes to pharmaceutical drugs, with more prescription drug addicts per capita than all states except for West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky.

Professional Input on the Crisis

According to Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

“The bottom line is we're not seeing consistent, effective, appropriate prescribing of painkillers across the nation, and this is a problem because of the deaths that result. Health-care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for powerful painkillers in 2012, based on prescription data gathered from retail pharmacies by a commercial vendor. That's enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills. Every day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers.”

Dr. Tom Frieden also spoke on a more optimistic note, discussing how, when Florida really cracks down on pharmaceutical overprescribing, big change becomes not only possible but actually real. According to Frieden, when a state imposes limits and strict regulations on doctors’ ability to prescribe pharmaceuticals, overdose death rates plummet:

“Florida shows that policy and enforcement matter. When you take serious action, you get encouraging results.”

How to Create Change

In Florida, legislators and law enforcement experts took action by passing and then enforcing a series of laws that placed unprecedented levels of regulation, strictness, limits, and mindful monitoring on doctors, pharmacies, and pharmaceutical distributors. Shortly afterward, Floridian opioid overdoses decreased by twenty-three percent in the two years following the changes.

The states that are most affected by prescription drug overdoses are the states that coincidentally have the most prescription drug prescribing rates. The trend is always present. To correct the issue, we need to insist that lawmakers and law enforcement officers crack down on overprescribing, on doctor shopping, on “pill mill” pharmacies, and on illegitimate pharmaceutical drug distribution.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.