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A new NIAAA study finds nonmedical use of prescription opioids is way up

Posted on 12-22-2016 Posted in Research, Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

 prescription opioids

Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription painkillers such as codeine, and the illicit drug heroin. Overdoses due to prescription opioid drugs have been deemed the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. As painkillers are frequently prescribed medications, they are easily obtained and taken for reasons other than the condition for which they were prescribed. The nonmedical use of prescription painkillers has increased and so have the overdoses and deaths resulting from these drugs; 78 Americans die from an opioid overdose each day.

New data released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in June 2016 indicated that the nonmedical use of prescription opioids more than doubled among American adults from 2001-2002 to 2012-2013. Nearly 10 million American adults reported misusing prescription painkillers in 2012-2013, according to this press release, that’s 4.1 percent of the entire adult population in the United States.

The study used data from the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III (NESARC-III), which is an ongoing study by the NIAAA. The results of this study also indicated that the nonmedical use of prescription opioids, which included taking opioid painkillers without a prescription and/or taking greater amounts, more often or longer than prescribed, has also drastically increased from 1.8 percent of the adult population in 2001-2002 to 4.1 percent of the adult population in 2012-2013.

Rising prescription opioid misuse and dependence

Over ten years, the percentage of American adults who have used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons has increased. In 2012-2013, more than 11 percent of American adults reported that they have used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons at some point in their lives; 10 years earlier, only 4.7 percent of adults had reported the nonmedical use of prescription opioids.

From 2001-2002 to 2012-2013, the researchers found that  nonmedical prescription opioid use has increased by 161 percent and there was an increase of 125 percent in the prevalence of prescription opioid use disorder, with currently over two million American adults who exhibited symptoms that met the criteria for an opioid use disorder due to the non-medical use of prescription killers specified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, fifth revision.

Prescription opioid misuse is increasing, yet few receive treatment

At the same time, only a very small percentage of those who misuse and/or become addicted to prescription painkillers actually received treatment in 2012-2013. In fact, the data indicated that treatment is received by only five percent of those who misused prescription painkillers and 17 percent of those with an opioid use disorder due to prescription painkillers, according to this study.

The increasing misuse, abuse and dependence on prescription opioid medications is a major problem in the United States, contributing to significant morbidity and mortality. It is clear that the opioid epidemic has worsened over the past 10 years and efforts to increase treatment availability and accessibility should be a top priority.

Finding help

As a leading provider of behavioral health treatment services, Sovereign Health of Florida provides comprehensive and individualized treatment services to patients with mental health, substance use and co-occurring disorders. For more information about the misuse and dependence on prescription opioid drugs and the treatment of opioid use disorders at Sovereign Health, please contact our 24/7 helpline to speak to a member of our team.

About the author

Amanda Habermann is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. A graduate of California Lutheran University, she received her M.S. in clinical psychology with an emphasis in psychiatric rehabilitation. Her master’s thesis was written on “The effect of parental codependency on elementary school children’s social and emotional development,” and her research has been accepted for poster presentations at the Western Psychological Association. She brings to the team her extensive clinical background and skills in psychological testing and assessment, clinical diagnosis, research and treatment, and recovery techniques for patients with mental illness. She is a passionate researcher and enjoys staying up to date on the newest topics in the field. For more information and other inquiries about this article, contact the author at

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