Prescription Opioid Addiction Statistics

Prescription misuse, opioid use disorder, and overdose are all huge risks for opioid users. In the 1990s, doctors began prescribing opioids to patients more and more without proper evidence that these drugs could be habit-forming.

Prescription Opioids Addiction Statistics

In 2017 about 1.7 million people in the United States were misusing prescription opioids. Doctors usually prescribe opioids for pain relief after surgery or to combat chronic pain issues.

25% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them, while 8 to 12% of this same group develop an opioid use disorder.

Common prescription opioid medications include:

Opioids can also have euphoric effects, causing patients to be tempted to use these drugs recreationally.

An estimated 72% of opioids prescribed after surgery go unused, leaving them available for recreational use.

The Dangers of Prescription Opioid Abuse by the Numbers

The two most dangerous effects of prescription opioid abuse are overdosing and transitioning to illicit drugs.

Prescription Opioid-Related Overdose Statistics

The most dangerous risk of prescription opioid abuse is potential overdose.

  • In 2019, over 70% of all drug overdose deaths involved an opioid (prescription or otherwise).
  • Prescription opioids were involved in 28% of all opioid deaths that year, accounting for 14,000 deaths or an average of 38 deaths per day.
  • From 1999 to 2019, nearly 247,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses involving prescription opioids.

In order to understand these statistics, it’s important to note that prescription fentanyl is difficult to distinguish from illegally-made fentanyl. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) separates certain synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, from their calculations. This means prescription opioids may account for a higher percentage of opioid-involved overdoses than reported.

Some of the most common drugs involved in prescription opioid overdose deaths are:

  • Methadone
  • Oxycodone (such as OxyContin®)
  • Hydrocodone (such as Vicodin®)

Luckily, there was nearly a 7% decrease in prescription opioid-related deaths rates from 2018 to 2019. Of the 50 states, 38 states keep track of prescription opioid overdose deaths. From 2017 to 2018 none of those states saw a significant increase in prescription opioid overdose deaths. Even better, 17 of those states reported a decline in those deaths.

Transitioning from Prescription Opioids to Illegal Opioids

While prescription opioids are pharmaceutically produced to be exact in dosage and are supplied with specific instructions, illegal opioids are made without regulation and are available to anyone who knows where to get them. Unfortunately, prescription opioids can be a gateway to illegal opioid use.

Here are some key statistics about the transition from legal to illegal opioid use:

  • About 4 to 6% of people who misuse prescription opioids transition to heroin use.
  • An estimated 80% of heroin users transitioned from misusing prescription opioids.

Who is at Risk of Abusing Prescription Opioids?

Almost anyone is at risk of becoming addicted to prescription opioids due to their availability in the medicine cabinets of friends, family, and acquaintances.

According to the CDC, people who abuse prescription opioids get them from the following sources:

  • 27% from their own prescription
  • 26% from their friends or relatives for free
  • 23% bought from their friends or relatives
  • 15% bought from a drug dealer

Many people who abuse prescription opioids suffer from chronic physical pain, depression, or anxiety. Race, age, sex, gender, and sexual orientation can all be risk factors as well.

Opioid Addiction Statistics by Race

Non-Hispanic white people are the most affected by prescription opioid overdose.

Individuals who have overdosed on opioids by race:

  • 79% Non-Hispanic white
  • 10% Black
  • 8% Hispanic

These percentages may be explained by prescriber bias and prejudice that non-white people are more likely to abuse or sell drugs. There is some evidence to suggest that Black people are significantly less likely to be prescribed opioids for pain than white patients. Many minorities are also less likely to receive pain medication due to miscommunications with their healthcare providers about their pain levels.

As for Native Americans, one study found that many participants reported an increase in oxycontin use on their reservations. Within these reservations, the highest use was among women ages 19 to 38. Colonial violence, gendered violence, high rates of trauma, poor health, and poverty may all be factors causing prescription opioid use among indigenous populations such as Native American reservations.

Opioid Abuse Statistics by Age

After tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana, prescription medications are some of the most commonly misused drugs by teenagers. Fortunately, prescription opioid misuse is declining for teens.

Below are some percentages of Vicodin and Oxycontin use in teens during the drugs’ peak years of popularity.

Vicodin Use in Teens During Peak Years:

  • 8th grade:      3.0% (2006)
  • 10th grade:    8.1% (2009)
  • 12th grade:    10.5% (2003)

Oxycontin Use in Teens During Peak Years:

  • 8th grade:      2.6% (2006)
  • 10th grade:    5.1% (2009)
  • 12th grade:    5.5% (2005)

In 2019 the percentages of teens using these drugs were significantly lower.

Vicodin Use in Teens in 2019:

  • 8th grade       0.9%
  • 10th grade     1.1%
  • 12th grade     1.1%

Oxycontin Use in Teens in 2019:

  • 8th grade       1.2%
  • 10th grade     2.0%
  • 12th grade     1.7%

Opioid Statistics for Women vs Men

Although there are few studies that analyze how gender affects opioid use and misuse, there is some evidence that women are more likely to use and misuse prescription opioids than men. A reported 19% of female and 12.2% of male admissions for substance abuse treatment were misusing prescription opioids.

Possible explanations for higher rates of opioid misuse among women:

  • Some studies have shown that women’s opioid receptors work differently than men’s
  • Women are more likely to have experienced trauma, gender-based violence, and anxiety and depression resulting from trauma
  • Women generally have smaller body mass than men and therefore absorb medications differently

Women who have experienced violence and/or trauma, indigenous women, pregnant women, LGBTQ+ women are all at higher risk of misusing prescription opioid medications.

Pregnant women are a major group at risk of misusing these drugs. According to a 2019 study, 7% of women self-reported using prescription opioid medications during pregnancy, and 1 in 5 of those women self-reported misuse.

Prescription opioid misuse can be dangerous for a mother and her fetus. Mothers misusing these drugs risk their babies being born with neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS is the result of a baby having withdrawals from opioids that they were exposed to in the womb.

Data from 2017 shows that 7 out of 1000 newborn hospital stays involved NAS. From 2010 to 2017 there was an 82% rise in the number of babies born with NAS.

Opioid Use Statistics in the LGBTQ+ Community

Members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to face issues of abuse, trauma, violence, homelessness, joblessness, bullying, and subsequent mental health issues. These issues put them at higher risk of misusing drugs, including prescription opioids.

Nine percent of sexual minority adults report misuse of opioids (including prescriptions) compared to only 3.8% of all adults. Another statistic shows that 9% of sexual minority adults age 26 or older misuse prescription opioids compared to only 6.4% of the total in that age range.

How to Get Help for Opioid Addiction

The good news is that treatment is getting better and more available all the time. Between 2016 and 2019 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued over 9 billion dollars worth of grants toward opioid abuse, treatment, prevention, and recovery efforts.

Here are some positive statistics about opioid misuse treatment:

  • There are now over 14,000+ substance abuse facilities in the U.S.
  • About 1.27 million Americans are currently receiving medication-assisted treatment.
  • From 2016 to 2018 there was a 142% increase in patients receiving medication-assisted treatment at health centers funded by Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

If you or someone you know is struggling with prescription opioid misuse, recovery is attainable. There are many inpatient and outpatient programs that can help you get back on track.

Written by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

6 references
  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021, July 1). Opioid overdose crisis. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drug-topics/opioids/opioid-overdose-crisis.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 25). Data Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/data/index.html.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 17). Overview. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/prescription/overview.html.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 24). Prescription opioid overdose death maps. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/prescription/maps.html.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, March 17). Understanding the epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/basics/epidemic.html.
  6. Serdarevic, M., Striley, C. W., & Cottler, L. B. (2017, July). Sex differences in prescription opioid use. Current opinion in psychiatry. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5675036/.

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