Posted: 30 November 2011

Tell us about your drug use-legal and otherwise

Prescription drug use is rife, perhaps even at epidemic levels. That’s why we really need a clearer picture of who is using what and when and why. Please read about our drug use survey

It is fashionable and illicit drugs which tend to attract notoriety and media headlines and dominate public debate: cocaine, heroin, ecstasy and more recently, mephedrone and synthetic cannabis. But a largely under-reported drug story, in the US and other developed nations, is that the drugs most likely to top overdose statistics (and currently causing the greatest ripples in public health circles) are in fact prescribed medications such as opioid pain-killers and sleeping tablets.

Prescription medicine abuse is rife, perhaps even at epidemic levels. The US has seen an unprecedented rise in drug-related overdose deaths (a tripling in the last decade) largely due to a massive increase in the abuse and misuse of prescription opioid drugs such as oxycontin, and sleep-inducing medications such zolpidem (Ambien) and Valium (diazepam-type drugs). As the US physician David Kloth wrote recently: “Prescription drugs now surpass motor vehicle accidents as the No 1 cause of accidental death in almost half the states in this country.

Last year, nearly 30,000 Americans died from an overdose, with at least half of these deaths related to legally controlled substances that were misused, abused, prescribed incorrectly, or simply just in the wrong person’s hands.” More people in the US die from an overdose of medications such as oxycontin than they do of heroin. Over one third of some 35-40,000 poisoning deaths each year in the US involve prescription opioids. These medications are sourced from individuals’ own doctors, friends, drug dealers and, increasingly, online. Efforts have been made to educate doctors to prescribe more carefully, and patients are increasingly warned of the risk of prescription medication dependence and overdose. But the advent of internet drug shopping is proving an additional challenge. Some towns may not have a local drug dealer, no one is that far away from a pharmacy or a computer terminal. There has been, however, little population research on the extent of the use and misuse of these medications in the US or elsewhere. Surveys have often focused on high school students among whom abuse of prescribed stimulants and other prescribed medications is a recognised public health issue. There have been fewer studies exploring more widely how these drugs are acccessed (from doctors, dealers, the internet) or – and perhaps most importantly – the reasons why they are taken (other than for the stated medical purpose).

This is where this year’s MixMag/Guardian online Drug Survey comes in. We are gathering valuable data on these vital drug use issues . We are not just interested in prescription drugs. We want to know people’s experience of drugs of all kinds, from ketamine and cocaine to alcohol. What, we want to know, are the medical and social consequences of drug use? What happens in the real world when different people get caught in possession with different drugs?

With over 12,000 global responses including over 2,500 from the US, we have already – in a week – collected the largest ever data set on a number of key public health and drug specific issues. It is rapidly shaping up to be a hugely valuable and unique source of real people’s attitudes towards and experience of drugs. Most studies don’t ask the questions that make a difference to the people who use them: this survey does.

The survey is conducted by Global Drug Survey. Taking part in this survey and helping us reach our target of 15,000 people world-wide will help inform smarter decisions not only by people who use drugs but also by those draw up policy and write laws.

Because we receive no government funding we are free to ask what we think is important and ensure that the facts get shared with those who helped us gather the data. Our findings will be published exclusively byMixmag and the Guardian in March 2012.

The survey is secure and anonymised. You can respond to the survey here. The survey takes 20-25 minutes.


• Dr Adam Winstock is an addictions psychiatrist and researcher in London, and founder of Global Drug Survey.

This article was published in the Guardian on Wednesday the 30th of November 2011. To see the original and its responses click here.