Safety and OSHA News

Report: Opioid abuse down, but progress is uneven

A new federal government report shows about one-in-25 people age 12 or older in the U.S. used prescription pain relievers without a doctor’s direction in the past year. 

The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says 4.31% of the population from teens on up use opioids “non-medically,” which can lead to substance use disorder, overdose or death. Nonmedical use of pain meds (such as hydrocodone and oxycodone) is second only to marijuana use as the nation’s most prevalent illicit drug problem.

SAMHSA says some progress has been made in reducing nonmedical use of prescription pain meds, but this progress hasn’t been uniform across all states.

The agency hopes that breaking down nonmedical use by state and region can help government officials focus substance abuse prevention and treatment strategies.

States with the highest rates of nonmedical use are:

  • Oklahoma, 5.31%
  • Alabama, 5.24%
  • Arkansas, 5.21%, and
  • Nevada, 5.20%.

States with the lowest rates:

  • Minnesota, 3.41%
  • Montana, 3.46%
  • Florida, 3.47%
  • Vermont, 3.49%, and
  • Massachusetts, 3.49%.

Of the 16 substate regions with the highest rates of nonmedical prescription meds use, seven were in the South, five were in the West and four were in the Midwest. Of the 16 regions with the lowest rates, five were in the Northeast, four were in the Midwest, four were in the West and three were in the South.

SAMHSA says over 26 million people have used prescription pain meds without a doctor’s direction since 2002. Overdoses of these meds have caused nearly 15,000 deaths since 2008. Nonmedical use costs health insurers up to $75.5 billion each year in direct healthcare costs.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has identified five specific strategies to address the opioid crisis:

  • Improve access to prevention, treatment and recovery services
  • Target availability and distribution of overdose-reversing drugs
  • Strengthen timely public health data and reporting
  • Support cutting-edge research, and
  • Advance the practice of pain management.
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