Bloomberg News

Prescription Painkiller Abuse Surged in U.S., Study Finds

June 25, 2012

Prescription Painkiller Abuse Surged in U.S., Study Finds

Without factoring for an increase in population, about 956,000 Americans said they used prescription painkillers without medically needing them for 200 days or more on average in each of 2009 and 2010 and about 4.6 million people on average used them for 30 days or more. Photographer: Keith Brofsky/Getty Images

Taking prescription painkillers without a medical need increased 75 percent from 2002 to 2010, and most users were men, according to the first study to look at who is likely to abuse the drugs and how often it occurs.

Men and people ages 26 to 49 saw the largest increase in nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, taking the drugs 200 or more days a year, according to a research letter today in the Archives of Internal Medicine. More than 15,500 people overdosed on pills such as Oxycontin and Vicodin and died in 2009, more than double since 2002, the paper said.

While national estimates of nonmedical use of the painkillers has remained unchanged since 2002, the statistics included people who took the drugs once or twice to chronic users, the paper said. Today’s findings are the first to review the frequency of nonmedical use of the painkiller and quantify who is abusing them, said Christopher Jones, the study author.

“Chronic nonmedical use is increasing and these drugs have very dangerous risks,” Jones, a health scientist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Injury Center in Atlanta, said today in a telephone interview. “As sales of these drugs have gone up so has the unintended adverse events.”

Those adverse events include overdose, death, increases in emergency room visits and a rise in the number of people in treatment facilities for their addiction, he said. Prior research found that nonmedical use of the drugs was common among those who overdosed prior to their deaths, the paper said.

Annual Surveys

The study used data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of those 12 and older that provides national estimates on substance abuse in the U.S. Today’s research looked at data from the 2002 and 2003 and the 2009 and 2010 surveys.

The study showed 3.8 per 1,000 people reported nonmedical use of the drugs for 200 days or more in 2009-2010 compared with 2.2 per 1,000 in 2002-2003, an increase of about 75 percent, Jones said. The figures include an estimate of population growth during the time period.

Without factoring for an increase in population, about 956,000 Americans said they used prescription painkillers without medically needing them for 200 days or more on average in each of 2009 and 2010 and about 4.6 million people on average used them for 30 days or more. That compares with 512,000 on average for 200 or more days in 2002 and 2003 and 3.7 million for 30 or more days, Jones said.

Men who used the painkillers for 200 or more days a year increased 105 percent from 2002 to 2010; those ages 26 to 34 increased 81 percent; and use among 35 to 49 year olds jumped 135 percent. Abuse among those 50 and older more than doubled though the finding didn’t reach statistical significance, the author said.

Nonmedical use of the painkillers among 12 to 17 year olds decreased 26 percent over the study.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicole Ostrow in New York at nostrow1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net


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