Severity of Opioid Problem in the US Discovered

Approximately 4.3 million people reported nonmedical use of prescription pain killers in 2014.

A recent survey conducted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that approximately 27 million people reported using illicit drugs within the past 30 days. This figure includes the nonmedical use of painkillers, such as opioids.

Investigators described nonmedical use of drugs as use without a prescription or for a euphoric feeling. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health explores trends in behavioral health in the general population.

Included in the current study were data from 2002 to 2014 regarding substance use in respondents 12-years-old or above. Investigators found that each year of the study corresponded with the overall increased use of illicit drugs.

They reported that 4.3 million people were current nonmedical users of prescription pain killers in 2014, which is approximately 1.6% of the responding population. However, they discovered that nonmedical use of these drugs was lower compared with statistics from 2002 to 2012.

The rate of nonmedical use of painkillers among adolescents (12- to 17-years old) was lower in 2014 than from 2002 to 2011, according to the study. They also found the usage rate among young adults (18- to 25-years old) decreased in 2014 compared with 2002 to 2012.

However, despite decreased use, 1.9% of adolescents and 2.8% of young adults were current nonmedical users of prescription pain killers. The decrease in nonmedical use of prescription painkillers may be a result of legislation targeting opioids and opioid prescribers, along with increased awareness about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs.

In addition to increasing the risk of overdose-related deaths and adverse health effects, the nonmedical use of prescription drugs cost the healthcare system billions each year. Substance use disorder is also a condition that has gained much awareness in the past few years.

The disorder is characterized by impairment, disabilities, health problems, and failure to meet responsibilities. These disorders can increase costs due to a lack of productivity, increased healthcare utilization, and related crimes, according to the study.

The investigators also found that 21.5 million people reported they had a substance use disorder within the previous year. Approximately 7.1 million had an illicit drug disorder, and 2.6 million had alcohol use and illicit drug disorder, according to the study.

Of the respondents who reported an illicit drug disorder, 1.9 million had a disorder related to the nonmedical use of prescription painkillers within the previous year. Investigators said this was similar to rates from 2005 to 2013.

Many of the people who had a substance use disorder also had a mental illness in 2014. Importantly, these substance use disorders are preventable and treatable, but barriers to care exist.

Some patients may experience a delay in care because of prior authorizations, or other insurance stipulations. While nonmedical prescription painkiller rates have decreased, more needs to be done to prevent overdoses, deaths, and increased healthcare costs, according to the study.

Increasing access to care and continuing to review and implement new legislation could lead to an even further decrease in the nonmedical use of prescription painkillers and substance use disorders.