“The increasing misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers poses a myriad of serious public health consequences,” said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, which contributed funding for the study. These consequences range from addiction and overdose deaths to use of heroin, an illicit opioid, she said.
Survey results indicated more than 4 percent of adults reported nonmedical use of addictive opioids in 2012-2013. This means they took the drug without a prescription or more of the drug than prescribed or for longer periods or more often. Ten years earlier, less than 2 percent of adults reported such risky behavior.
Moreover, the proportion of adults who reported nonmedical use of opioids at some point in their lives rose from 4.7 percent to more than 11 percent during the study period.
And 2.1 million Americans met the criteria for prescription opioid use disorder, or opioid addiction, in 2012-2013.
The consequence are wide-ranging, Volkow pointed out. “These include increases in opioid use disorders and related fatalities from overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of newborns who experience neonatal abstinence syndrome,” she said in a government news release.
In addition, Volkow said prescription opioid misuse can progress to intravenous heroin use. This in turn raises the risk for HIV, hepatitis C and other infections among people sharing needles, she explained.
According to the report, rates of prescription opioid misuse were highest among: men; people with annual incomes less than $70,000; those previously married; and people with a high school education or less.
Misuse was also higher among whites and Native Americans and those living in the Midwest and West, the study found.