Opioid misuse soaring, feds find

medication errors photo

Americans are using opioids, the kind of prescription pain reliever that killed the singer Prince,  a lot — but not for their intended use.

A survey just released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reports that, in 2012-2013, nearly 10 million Americans used Vicodin, OxyCotin or another opioid without a doctor’s prescription…or they used it in a way that wasn’t prescribed; for example taking larger doses, taking the drug more frequently or continuing to use it longer than prescribed. That 10 million is more than 4 percent of the adults in the U.S.  Ten years earlier, in 2001-2002, less than 2 percent of Americans were misusing opioids. Additionally, more than 11 percent of Americans are now reporting the nonmedical use of prescription opioids at some point in their lives.  Ten years ago it was only 4.7 percent.

Opioid addiction also dramatically increasing

The number of people who meet the criteria for prescription opioid addiction has substantially increased during this timeframe as well, with 2.1 million adults (0.9 percent of the U.S. adult population) reporting symptoms that fit the diagnosis of nonmedical prescription opioid use disorder.

Symptoms of prescription opioid use disorder include:

  • taking the drug in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended
  • the persistent desire to cut down or control use/unsuccessful efforts to do so
  • failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school or home as a result of prescription opioid use
  • symptoms of tolerance and/or withdrawal

“The increasing misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers poses a myriad of serious public health consequences,” says  Dr. Nora Volkow, the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.  They include deaths from overdoses and a rising incidence of babies born with problems that are related to having been exposed to opioids while in their mother’s womb.  “In some instances, prescription opioid misuse can progress to intravenous heroin use with consequent increases in risk for HIV, hepatitis C and other infections among individuals sharing needles,” says Dr. Volkow.

White, middle-class, divorced men

According to the NIAAA study, rates of nonmedical prescription opioid use were greatest among men, those with annual incomes less than $70,000, those previously married, and with a high school-level education or less. Use was greater among whites and Native Americans and those living in the Midwest and West.

The full NIAAA study appears online in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.



About the Author

Ed Tobias
Ed Tobias brings more than four decades of reporting and news management experience to his work at Rx411. Tobias managed news coverage for Associated Press Radio for over twenty years. This included coverage of the 9/11 attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina, the death of Princess Diana, the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters and national election primaries, conventions and campaigns. He was part of the team that built AP’s on-line video operation. Prior to joining AP, Tobias was News Director at all-news WTOP in Washington, D.C.