Report: Americans Use More Narcotic Painkillers Than Tobacco
More than one-third (35%) of American adults received a prescription for narcotic painkillers in 2015, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). If you include the number of people using pills illicitly, that number is likely much higher.
The report clearly demonstrates how common prescription painkillers are in the U.S. In fact, in 2015, they were used by more American adults than all tobacco products combined (cigars, cigarettes, and smokeless.)
The good news is, most of the painkiller use in the U.S. isn’t considered to be “misuse” or abuse. According to SAMHSA, misuse occurs when painkillers are used in a manner that is contrary to physician orders. This includes taking pills for a longer duration than prescribed, or taking the medication to achieve a high.
There is a reason why painkiller use is so ubiquitous – the drugs can be very effective in reducing pain in individuals who truly need them. Cancer pain, and pain following an injury or surgery may be intolerable if it were not for these drugs.
However, there is no question that opioid use is risky. They can be extremely addictive, and increasing tolerance may lead some to overdose in an attempt to control pain or maintain their habit.
But Americans are very special in this regard – that is, other countries seem to manage their pain without opioids. According to a study from 2008, Americans consume about 80% of the world’s opioid supply – and an incredible 99% of the world’s hydrocodone (our most popular painkiller.)
And despite government efforts to curb use by tightening restrictions, painkiller misuse continues to devastate. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, deaths related to prescription opioids have quadrupled since 1999.
Also, from 1999-2015, more than 183,000 people in U.S. have died from prescription opioid overdoses. Also, every day 1000 patients are treated in emergency rooms for conditions related to the misuse of prescription opioids.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology