Nonmedical use of prescription opioids more than doubled among adults in the United States from 2001–2002 to 2012–2013, according to a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Nearly 10 million Americans, or 4.1% of the adult population, used opioid medications—a class of drugs that includes OxyContin (oxycodone, Purdue Pharma) and Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen, AbbVie)—without a prescription or not as prescribed (i.e., in greater amounts, more often, or longer than prescribed) in 2012–2013. This is up from 1.8% of the adult population in 2001–2002.
More than 11% of Americans reported nonmedical use of prescription opioids at some point in their lives—a considerable increase from 4.7% ten years prior. The number of people who met the criteria for prescription opioid addiction substantially increased in 2012–2013 as well, with 2.1 million adults (0.9% of the U.S. adult population) reporting symptoms of “nonmedical prescription opioid use disorder,” as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition.
Researchers analyzed data from the NIAAA’s National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III (NESARC-III), ongoing research that examines alcohol and drug use disorders among the U.S. population, as well as associated mental health conditions.
Rates of nonmedical prescription opioid use were greatest among men, those with annual incomes less than $70,000, those previously married, and those with a high school-level education or less. Use was greater among whites and Native Americans and those living in the Midwest and West.
The study results also showed that few people misusing prescription opioids received treatment. Based on NESARC-III data, only about 5% of people misusing prescription opioids during the past year and 17% of those with prescription opioid use disorder received help. Evidence-based treatment options for addiction to prescription opioids include medications and behavioral counseling.
Overall, the study found that nonmedical prescription opioid use among U.S. adults increased by 161% from 2001–2002 to 2012–2013, whereas prescription opioid use disorder increased by 125%. The authors suggest that this might be partly due to an increase in opioid prescribing and dosage, to a lessened perception of risk because of its legality, and to a lack of understanding of the drugs’ addictive potential.
The researchers found that nonmedical prescription opioid use and prescription opioid use disorder are linked to other drug use disorders and a variety of mental health disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder, and borderline, schizotypal, and antisocial personality disorder. Persistent depression and major depressive disorder are linked to nonmedical prescription opioid use, whereas bipolar I disorder is linked to prescription opioid use disorder.
The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
Source: NIH; June 22, 2016.