A new report from the Governor’s Office of Drug Control Policy shows the newest and fastest growing form of substance abuse by Iowans involves prescription and over the counter medications. The state’s Drug Control Policy Director Gary Kendell says he’s especially concerned about stories of teenagers sharing pills to get high.

“I think it continues to be a problem because of the perception that it’s not as dangerous as so-called ‘street drugs,'” Kendell said. By October of this year, investigations into stolen or misused medications in Iowa exceeded the entire number of cases in 2009.

The most commonly abused prescription drugs are hydrocodone and oxycodone.  Thirty-seven percent of all prescriptions written in Iowa last year were for those two painkillers. Kendell says too many people believe – because they’re prescribed by a doctor – the drugs are safe for recreational use.

 “I think that’s our biggest challenge is convincing people that using (prescription drugs) in a non-medical or non-doctor prescribed way is as dangerous as using heroin or meth,” Kendell said. “I think people have a difficult time getting their head around that.”

Iowa treatment centers have also reported a dramatic increase in clients abusing prescription drugs. The state has a voluntary Prescription Monitoring Program. Kendell says he’ll ask the legislature to make participation in the program mandatory for doctors and pharmacists.

“It really hurts the value of the program when you only have about 10 to 12 percent of the providers and prescribers using it – which is our current situation,” Kendell said. “It has the potential to be a really valuable tool in trying to end some of this doctor shopping that’s going on.”

Kendell says some people are visiting multiple doctors to get prescriptions from each of them and then going to different pharmacies and filling those prescriptions. The annual report shows alcohol continues to be the most abused substance in Iowa while marijuana continues to be the most abused illegal drug.