There is lack of clarity between the meanings of the terms abuse and misuse as far as drugs and prohibited substances are concerned. These terms are often used interchangeably in the non-medical realm. There is, however, a thin but clear difference between these two words.
According to Barret (2008), prescription misuse has many definitions based on the type of drug prescription, uses without prescription, and intentional use to achieve intoxicating effects. Generally, drug misuse is the inappropriate use of either prescribed or non-prescribed medications. This usually applies where a drug is used for therapeutic purposes only, and not for elation or amusement. For example, taking more than the prescribed dosage of medication, once or repeatedly, is considered misuse. The same also applies to under-dosage. Most commonly misused drugs are include psychoactive drugs such as Vicodin and cannabis that cause mental and emotional effects on the user.
On the other hand, drug abuse is a deliberate and repetitive use of medication to achieve results that are completely different from their original and approved uses. Commonly abused drugs include cocaine and opioids. Non-therapeutic uses of heroin, cocaine and other narcotics that are considered drug abuse include leisure, ecstasy and pleasure.
National Institute on Drug Abuse (2007) describes drug abuse prevention as a set of actions aimed at preventing substance abuse, and mitigating their harmful effects on health and social well-being. It further suggests that drug abuse prevention consists of actions aimed at ‘lowering both substance supply and substance demand’. This objective is based on the assumption that a reduction in availability and accessibility to such drugs will consequently reduce the chances of abuse. Sulkunen (1976) highlights the ‘continuous shifts between periods of increasing and decreasing abuse of substances’. He further proposes that effective prevention mechanisms can ‘modify this trend, generate or reinforce the downward shift or help diminish the rising trend’.
According the National Drug Control Strategy, drug abuse and addiction is considered as a brain disease rather than a moral failing that can be identified, treated, controlled and prevented. To achieve this, four basic principles have been identified and serve as a blueprint for reducing and controlling drug abuse and its consequences. Firstly, the Strategy recognizes the need to prevent drug use before it even begins through various mechanisms such as creation of awareness and education. Secondly, expansion of access to medical treatment for people struggling with addiction is an integral component in reducing drug demand. Reformation of criminal justice system to protect public safety, while breaking the cycle of drug use, crime and incarceration, make up the third principle. Finally, continual support to individuals in recovery from drug abuse constitutes the fourth principle.
The need for an integrated strategy in combating drug abuse has led to the joint effort of several organizations in the quest of reducing and preventing drug abuse. The Department of Justice and Equality’s role is primarily concerned with drug supply reduction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) plays a significant role in addressing the most fundamental questions about substance abuse by designing and developing novel scientific-based approaches to drug abuse treatment and prevention. It also supports public education and research dissemination initiatives on drug abuse prevention strategies. Homeland Security deals with enforcement of prohibited substances laws and regulations. It investigates and apprehends violators of controlled drugs regulations at both the interstate and international levels.
Barret, S. P., Meisner, J. R., & Stewart, S.H. (2008). What Constitutes Prescription Drug Misuse? Problems and Pitfalls of Current Conceptualizations. Curr Drug Abuse Rev1, 3, 255-62.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2007). Drug Abuse Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/topics-in-brief/drug-abuse-prevention
Sulkunen, P. (1976). Drinking Patterns and the Level of Alcohol Consumption. An International Overview. In R.D. Gibbins, Y. Israel & H. Kalaw (Ed.), Research advances in alcohol and Drug problems, 3, (pp. 223-281). New York: Wiley.