Opioid Use Disorder Has Doubled In The Past Decade

By John Lavitt 06/26/16

Non-medical use of prescription opioids has been reported by more than 11% of Americans at some point in their lives. 

Opioid Use Disorder Has Doubled In The Past Decade

Rates of both non-medical prescription opioid use and prescription opioid use disorder have more than doubled since 2001, according to federal data. The far-reaching public health impact of prescription pain pill addiction in the United States was illustrated in a report published June 22 by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which found that in 2012-2013, nearly 10 million Americans used prescription opioid medication like OxyContin and Vicodin without a prescription, or in a way that wasn't recommended by a doctor—a 1.8% increase from 2001-2002 data.

Analyzing data from an ongoing national survey conducted by the NIAAA that examines substance use disorders among Americans, the report found that overall, non-medical prescription opioid use has increased by 161% among adults. And the rate of prescription opioid use disorder has increased by 125%.

"The increasing misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers poses a myriad of serious public health consequences," said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), in a statement. "These include increases in opioid use disorders and related fatalities from overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of newborns who experience neonatal abstinence syndrome." 

Painkillers prescribed by doctors continue to be abused—whether a patient is taking it without a prescription, taking a higher dose than recommended, or taking the drug for longer than recommended. The consequence of this misuse has fueled the overdose crisis, driving the epidemic of lethal drug overdose in the U.S. Of the 47,055 lethal drug overdoses recorded in 2014, 18,893 were related to prescription opioid pain medication, according to the CDC.

According to the report, non-medical use of prescription opioid medication was reported by more than 11% of Americans at some point in their lives. Ten years prior, that number was 4.7%.

According to the NIAAA survey data, people who develop alcohol use disorder are twice as likely to also develop opioid use disorder. This could potentially give way to a dangerous combination. "Given the dramatic increase in non-medical use of prescription opioids, it is important that clinicians and patients also recognize the potent interaction of opioids with alcohol and other sedative-hypnotic drugs—an interaction that can be lethal," said Dr. George Koob, director of the NIAAA. 

Additionally, the report found that the non-medical use of prescription painkillers was greatest among men, people living in the Midwest and West, and whites and Native Americans. The researchers linked the non-medical use of prescription painkillers to a variety of mental health disorders, as well, including PTSD and borderline personality disorder. 

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.