Nearly 92 million Americans used a powerful prescription painkiller in 2015, survey shows

More than one out of three average Americans used a prescription opioid painkiller in 2015, despite growing concerns these medicines are promoting widespread addiction and overdose deaths, a new federal study shows.

Nearly 92 million U.S. adults, or about 38 percent of the population, took a legitimately prescribed  opioid like OxyContin or Percocet in 2015, according to results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

“The proportion of adults who receive these medications in any year seemed startling to me,” said study co-author Dr. Wilson Compton, deputy director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“It’s an awful lot of people who take these, mostly for medical purposes, but within that a significant percentage end up misusing them,” he added.

The survey found that 11.5 million people, or nearly 5 percent of the population, misused prescription opioids they’d obtained through illicit means.

About 1.9 million Americans (0.8 percent) reported full-fledged opioid addiction.

Overall, the results indicate that the medical profession is doing a poor job of appropriately prescribing opioid painkillers, Compton said.

Previous studies have found “there’s still four times the rate of prescribing there was 15 years ago,” Compton said. “Even though the rates have leveled off, we have a long way to go in improving medical care so these are not as overprescribed as they are currently.”

Many people receive opioids they don’t need and pass them on to relatives who aren’t getting the treatment they need for chronic pain, the researchers noted.

These painkillers are highly addictive and potentially deadly. The number of overdose deaths involving opioids has quadrupled since 1999, concurrent with the quadrupling of opioid prescriptions, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The survey defined prescription opioid misuse as people taking the painkillers without a prescription, taking larger doses than prescribed, or using the drugs to get high, Compton said.

Of those who misused prescription opioids, more than 50 percent got the medications as hand-me-downs from family or friends. Overall, nearly 60 percent of misuse involved taking opioids without a prescription.

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SOURCE: HealthDay News
Dennis Thompson