HealthDay News — More than 1 out of 3 average Americans used a prescription opioid in 2015, despite growing concerns these medicines are promoting widespread addiction and overdose deaths, according to a study published online in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health is a door-to-door survey that allows participants to log answers directly into a computer, providing anonymity that promotes honest responses, study coauthor Wilson Compton, MD, deputy director of the US National Institute on Drug Abuse. About 51,200 people completed the survey interview for 2015. Nearly 92 million US adults, or 37.8% of the population, took a legitimately prescribed opioid in 2015, according to the results. 

The survey found that 11.5 million people, or 4.7% of the population, misused prescription opioids they’d obtained through illicit means. Of those who misused prescription opioids, 40.8% got the medications from family or friends. 

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Overall, 59.9% of misuse involved taking opioids without a prescription. About 1.9 million Americans (0.8%) reported full-fledged opioid addiction. Two-thirds (63.4%) of those who misused opioids said they were motivated by relief from physical pain, while only 10.8% said they misused opioids to relax or get high.

Overall, the results indicate that the medical profession is doing a poor job of appropriately prescribing opioids, Compton said. Previous studies have found “there’s still four times the rate of prescribing there was 15 years ago,” he added. “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.”


Han B, Compton WM, Blanco C, Crane E, Lee J, Jones CM. Prescription opioid use, misuse, and use disorders in US adults: 2015 national survey on drug use and health. Ann Intern Med. 2017. doi: 10.7326/M17-0865 [Epub ahead of print]

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