Medication & Treatment

Top 8 Facts About the Opioid Dependence Problem in the U.S.

Author| The Pain Project

The efficacy of opioids as maintenance treatment of chronic noncancer pain is controversial. Research into this question suggests that opioids don’t help people with chronic pain like they can those with acute pain, and can even increase sensitivity to chronic pain.

The current opioid crisis touches all of us in some way. Its effects slice across socioeconomic, racial/ethnic, age, sex and geographic categories. Among Americans, 44% say they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers.

Here are eight facts about the opioid crisis in the U.S. that illustrate the magnitude of the problem:

  1. The opioid crisis has disproportionately impacted and claimed the lives of far too many young people as the average age of overdose is 35-54 years.1
  2. Since 1999, there has been a 400% increase in prescriptions for opioids with no overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.2,3
  3. As many as one in four patients receiving long-term opioid therapy in a primary care setting struggles with addiction.4
  4. In 2014, opioid overdoses were tragically linked to more than 28,000 deaths in the U.S.—a tripling of the rate since 2000.5
  5. Opioids are the most common treatment for chronic pain. It's estimated that 15-20% of all medical office visits an opioid is prescribed.5
  6. In 2012, there were a startling 259 million opioid prescriptions given out, that is enough for each adult in the U.S. to receive a bottle of pain pills.6
  7. Every day, an average of 78 Americans die from an opioid overdose and more than 1,000 people go to the Emergency Department for opioid overdoses.7
  8. In addition to so many needless deaths, for every unintentional opioid overdose death, another 161 people report drug abuse or dependence.8

In response to this crisis, the CDC has initiated a massive national effort to mitigate the opioid problem with prescribing guidelines limiting who receives opioids and how much they receive.9 The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy has said, “I think this is one of our greatest public health threats and it’s one that we have to respond to with speed and with urgency,” and he has initiated the Turn the Tide program.

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  1. Warner M, Chen LH, Makuc DM. Increase in fatal poisonings involving opioid analgesics in the United States, 1999–2006. NCHS Brief. 2009;22:1–7.
  2. Chang H, Daubresse M, Kruszewski S, et al. Prevalence and treatment of pain in emergency departments in the United States, 2000 – 2010. Amer J of Emergency Med 2014; 32(5): 421-31.
  3. Daubresse M, Chang H, Yu Y, Viswanathan S, et al. Ambulatory diagnosis and treatment of nonmalignant pain in the United States, 2000 – 2010. Medical Care 2013; 51(10): 870-878.
  4. Boscarino JA, Rukstalis M, Hoffman SN, et al. Risk factors for drug dependence among out-patients on opioid therapy in a large US health-care system. Addiction 2010;105:1776–82.
  5. CDC, National Center for health Statistics: 2016.
  6. Paulozzi LJ, Mack KA, Hockenberry JM. Vital signs: variation among states in prescribing of opioid pain relievers and benzodiazepinesUnited States, 2012. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep.
  7. CDC Injury Prevention & Control: Opioid Overdose.
  8. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2012 Jan 13;61(1):10-3. 2014;63:563–8. PubMed.