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After surgery or an injury, American doctors’ go-to treatment has become the pain killer Vicodin. In fact, 99 percent of all hydrocodone, the narcotic agent in the prescription, is used in the United States.

With the rise in use comes a rise in abuse. More than 2 million Americans are currently abusing the drug, research shows. Wendy Caldwell, a senior in UT’s Honors Mathematics Program, wanted to know the best way to reduce this number.

Caldwell worked with students and faculty across the country to determine whether abuse prevention education for doctors and patients or treatment methods used after a person abuses Vicodin would have a greater overall impact. They found that prevention is more successful than treatment.

The findings are published in Cornell University’s database.

Using mathematical models, the group studied whether successful treatment or prevention efforts were most effective in decreasing abuse. They further examined factors that impact the success rate of treatment—such as social interaction between abusers or the number of new prescription given. And they looked at factors that impact the success rate of prevention—such as fewer prescriptions written by doctors who are aware of abuse problems or pharmacists’ using drug monitoring programs.

The researchers found that manipulating such factors tied to prevention measures has a greater impact on reducing the population of abusers than manipulating factors associated with treatment.

“Specifically, implementing prevention measures that lower the rate of chronic medical users becoming abusers or that raise the rate at which chronic patients stop taking the drug reduces the abuser population more than implementing treatment programs to reduce relapse and raise the rate of successful treatment,” Caldwell said.

The authors state that while prevention measures such as educating pharmacists, physicians, and the public appears to be the most effective, they are not widely used.

“About 40 percent of medical professionals say they have received no training on the risks of Vicodin dependency,” said Caldwell. “This means doctors and patients are often left without the necessary information to manage the risk of taking the drug.”

The authors hope mathematical models like this will influence the way substance abuse is handled in the United States.

Caldwell worked with Benjamin Freedman at Bucknell University; Luke Settles at Southern Illinois University; Michael Thomas at Kennesaw State University; and Anarina Murillo, Erika Camacho, and Stephen Wirkus at Arizona State University.

C O N T A C T:

Whitney Heins (865-974-5460,