New evidence finally suggests significant and continual decreases in the abuse of pain medications, according to an analysis of national data presented at the Anesthesiology 2020 annual meeting. 

“Prior research has shown slight reductions in abuse rates, but our analysis shows we’re tracking statistically significant year-to-year declines in abuse, indicating that the decrease is not an anomaly and truly represents a trend in falling prescription drug abuse levels,” said lead author Mario Moric, MS, in a press release. “We believe the message of the dangers of opioid use without supervision of a medical professional is finally getting through and changing people’s mindset and behavior.”

According to the analysis, the rate of prescription opioids fell by 26% between 2007 and 2018. The researchers used the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of approximately 70,000 Americans aged 12 years and older regarding their use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.

The investigators defined prescription opioid abuse as use without the consent of a physician. Although opioids have a beneficial purpose in some cases, the authors said they should not be used long-term in most cases because of their significant adverse effects and risk of addiction.

In 2007, 4.9% of the respondents said they had abused prescription pain medications in the previous year compared with just 3.7% in 2018. These declines were noted from 2012 to 2018, with the exception of 2015, when higher numbers were reported due to a redesigned survey introduced that year.

“Pain medications such as opioids are an important resource in the treatment and care of patients, but they are not a cure-all,” said co-author Asokumar Buvanendran, MD, in a press release. “Since opioids have risks and can be highly addictive, they should be used only under the supervision of a physician who can consider their safely and how the medication will affect a patient over time. Prescribers and patients are now better armed with the information they need to make educated choice in pain management.”

REFERENCE
Significant decline in prescription opioid abuse seen among Americans at last [news release]. EurekAlert!; October 3, 2020. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-10/asoa-sdi092720.php. Accessed October 7, 2020.