Top 4 new prescription opioid abuse facts

October 20, 2015

Prescription opioid use disorders and deaths increased for the most recent 10 years tracked, even though the percentage of non-medical use of prescription opioids decreased, according to a new study.

Prescription opioid use disorders and deaths increased for the most recent 10 years tracked, even though the percentage of non-medical use of prescription opioids decreased, according to a new study.

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The study, published in the Oct 13, 2015, issue of JAMA, was led by Beth Han, MD, PhD, with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in Rockville, Md. Han and colleagues reviewed data on more than 472,00 people, aged 18 to 64 years, who participated in the 2003-2013 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.

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Here are the top new findings on opioid use and abuse:

  • The prevalence of nonmedical use of prescription opioids decreased from 5.4% in 2003 to 4.9% in 2013. While the slight decline in prescription opioid use is “encouraging" wrote the authors of a related JAMA editorial published in the same issue, the study also reported increases in the prevalence of prescription opoid use disorders (abuse and addiction) and increases in mortality.

  • Drug overdose deaths involving prescription opioids increased from 4.5 to 7.8 per 100,000 people. “The last decade has been a time of rapidly growing numbers of people dying from opioid overdoses,” but “the ability of the health system to detect and provide timely access to treatment does not seem to be improving much,” Brendan Saloner of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, who coauthored the study, told Reuters.

  • Over the 10-year period, the rate of use disorders (dependence on or abuse of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, hallucinogens, heroin, inhalants, or nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers, sedatives, or stimulants) rose from 0.6 to 0.9 percent. The fraction of opioid users with a use disorder also spiked between 2003 and 2013, from 12.7% to 16.9%. The numbers could improve if “we reduce inappropriate opioid prescribing and use and develop new treatments for pain that are safer,” Han wrote. Effective training programs would also help doctors identify and treat high-risk nonmedical users of prescription opioids, Han told Reuters.

  • The frequency of opioid use for more than 200 days also increased. This suggests that “More patients are experiencing an inexorable progression from initial opioid use to frequent use,” Han and colleagues wrote.