Prescription drugs represent a category of drugs that are seeing a rising rate of addiction in the United States. Opioids, meanwhile, represent one of three major categories of prescription drugs that pose significant risk of abuse, the other categories being stimulants and central nervous system depressants (benzos). Here is a look at the latest nationwide statistics surrounding opioid use.
According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use, released by the U.S. Department of, about 2 million persons aged 12 and older had used a prescription drug non medically for the first time within the past year. That averages to about 5,500 new initiates each day. This rate was lower than rates seen in the decade prior, which ranged from 2.3 million to 2.8 million initiates. Looking at pain relievers specifically, about 1.5 million of the 2 million initiates were initiates to pain relievers—much higher than initiate rates seen in the stimulant and sedative categories (603,000 and 128,000 initiates respectively).
This same survey reports that in 2013, about 1.9 millions persons exhibited pain reliever dependence or abuse. This rate is similar to that of 2012 (2.1 million) and that of the years 2006 to 2011 (ranging from 1.6 million to 1.9 million). The years 2004 and 2005, however, saw lower rates ranging from 1.4 million to 1.5 million, so these numbers could indicate an overall rise in prescription drug abuse.
There has also been a general rise in the number of individuals seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse, with rates climbing from 360,000 to 604,000 between 2003 and 2008, ranging from 726,000 to 761,000 from 2009 to 2011, and then climbing to 973,000 in 2011.
Opioid prescribing does seem to be on the rise, and this could point to a growing opioid addiction epidemic. About 76 million prescriptions for opioids were dispensed by U.S. retail pharmacies in 1991, and as of 2013 this rate has climbed to 207 million. Oxycodone and hydrocodone products are two of the most commonly prescribed categories of medications.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse speculates that this rise in opioid prescriptions could be due to increased social acceptance surrounding using medication for different purposes, and it could be due to aggressive marketing by pharmaceutical companies as well. These two factors have worked together to create a broad “environmental availability” of opioids and prescription medications in general.