More than 1 in 3 Americans Using Prescription Opioid Painkillers

More than 1 in 3 Americans Using Prescription Opioid Painkillers

A health crisis that currently kills 78 Americans a day is only becoming more concerning. A new federal study reveals that, on average, more than a third of Americans used prescription opioid painkillers in 2015. Researchers reviewed data collected from more than 51,000 adults during face-to-face interviews for the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and concluded that nearly 92 million adults in the U.S. took a prescribed opioid pain reliever like Vicodin, Percocet, or OxyContin in 2015.

Of these, approximately 11.5 million abused the medications, and 1.9 million had an opioid use disorder. More than 63 percent of those who misused these drugs cited physical pain relied as the reason. Results also showed that close to half (41%) of those who misused these pain relievers obtained them from a friend or family member.

The Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse

The biggest risk for anyone taking prescription painkillers is their high potential for abuse and physical dependence. The researchers noted that many people receive opioids they don’t need, and in turn, give them to family members who aren’t receiving the treatment they need for chronic pain. Opioid addiction affects close to two million people in the U.S.

 These medications are highly addictive; they cost the lives of more than 15,000 Americans in 2015 alone, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The total number of opioid overdose deaths has quadrupled since 1999, as have the amount of prescriptions.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines misuse as “use of a medication without a prescription, for a reason other than as directed by a physician, or in greater amounts, more often, or longer than prescribed.”

According to the study, nearly five percent of Americans surveyed reported to researchers that they took these medications without a doctor’s permission.

Who is Most at Risk for Painkiller Abuse and Addiction?

Study results show that certain demographics were more more likely to have been prescribed opioids, including people older than 50, women, and individuals who were not college graduates. On the other hand, people between the ages of 18 and 49, males and college graduates were less likely to be prescribed opioid pain relievers.

More Likely to Misuse or Abuse Opioids:

  • Those who were unemployed or uninsured
  • Individuals who said their health was poor
  • People with other addictions to drugs like heroin, sedatives, and cocaine
  • People with behavioral conditions such as depression

Researchers suggest that programs aimed at reducing opioid addiction should take into consideration the person’s history of mental illness and behavioral disorders, and should closely monitor their response to opioids.

Two-thirds of those who reported misusing opioids said they did it to relieve their pain, while only one in 10 reported misusing painkillers as a means to relax or get high, the survey reports.

What can be Done about the Opioid Crisis?

“Our results are consistent with findings that pain is a poorly addressed clinical and public health problem in the United States and that it may be a key part of the pathway to misuse or addiction,” study researchers stated. Recommendations from the NIDA included “better prevention and treatment of the underlying disorders are necessary to decrease pain and the morbidity and mortality associated with opioid misuse.”

“Simply restricting access to opioids without offering alternative pain treatments may have limited efficacy in reducing prescription opioid abuse. It could also “lead people to seek prescription opioids outside the health system or to use nonprescription opioids such as heroin or illicitly made fentanyl, which could increase health, misuse, and overdose risks.”

There must be a balance between increased access to effective and non-medical pain management, as well as improvement in the field of opioid addiction treatment. Doctors must monitor their patient’s progress, reduce prescriptions, and check for signs of opioid abuse or dependence.

Researchers noted that over-prescribing of painkillers can lead to a surplus of medications, which are then passed on, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to others who may abuse them. They warn that prescribing these addictive medications for less serious conditions can also lead to both diversion and abuse.

Get Treatment for Opioid Addiction

If you or someone you love is suffering from an addiction to opioid painkillers or illegal opioids like heroin, now is the time to get help. At Get Treatment, we can help you find an accredited drug rehab center that offers specialized opioid addiction treatment programs for your recovery needs. Dial 855-638-9268 today for more information.


Erica Loret de Mola

Erica Loret de Mola is a communications major who has been writing about addiction treatment for approximately three years. As content manager and editor in chief of Get Treatment, she strives to provide the most accurate and current information available to our clients.


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