Increasing Use of Synthetic Opioids

In recent years, usage rates of prescription opiates in America have skyrocketed. The vast majority of prescription pain relievers are used for the legitimate treatment of acute and chronic pain, but as the use of these medications has increased, so has the abuse.

More Americans now die from prescription drug overdoses than from heroin overdoses. With the exception of marijuana, prescription pills are now the most commonly abused drugs in the United States today.

Facts about prescription opiate abuse in the United States:

  • Fifteen percent of Americans (33 million people) have used prescription medications to get high. (Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse)
  • Ten million Americans take opiate medications at least once a week (Source: Pain journal)
  • By 2003, 13.7 million Americans had used oxycodone to get high (compared to 1.9 million who had used heroin).
  • In 2004, almost 10 percent of 12th graders used Vicodin to get high, and more than five percent used OxyContin. (Source: NIDA)
  • The number of people initiating addiction treatment for an opioid pill addiction increased from 16,121 in 1995 to 42,857 in 2005 -- an increase of 321 percent. (Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
  • The number of people needing emergency room attention following the use of prescription opioids increased from just fewer than 43,000 in 1995 to more than 108,000 in 2005 -- an increase of 153 percent. (Source: DHSS)
  • In 2004, for the first time, the number of overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids exceeded the number of deaths caused by heroin. (Source: DHSS)
  • People abusing prescription opioids come from all walks of life. A survey in 2004 showed that of people initiating OxyContin use, 24.8 percent came from families making less than $20,000 per year, and 25.6 percent came from families earning $75,000 or more per year. (Source: U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
  • 99.1 percent of people who uses OxyContin to get high had previously used another illicit drug. (Source: SAMHSA)

For many Americans, the nation's primary drug problem is a prescription drug problem.

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