73 facts you need to know about the opioid overdose epidemic

The following are more than 70 important facts that everyone should know about the prescription opioid painkiller epidemic that is currently taking place in the United States of America.

1.       Prescription painkillers are used in the treatment of moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed after surgery, injury, or for health conditions such as cancer.

2.       Recently, there has been a considerable increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids to treat chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis.

3.       There is little evidence that prolonged opioid treatment improves chronic pain, function, or quality of life.

4.       44 people die every day in the United States from prescription painkiller overdoses.

5.       Overdose occurs when a drug is swallowed, inhaled, injected, or absorbed through the skin in excessive amounts and injures the body.

6.       Overdoses can be intentional or unintentional.

7.       If the person taking or giving a substance did not mean to cause harm to themselves or others, then it is unintentional.

8.       The drugs most commonly involved in prescription overdose deaths include:

·         Hydrocodone (Vicodin).

·         Oxycodone (OxyContin).

·         Oxymorphone (Opana).

·         Methadone (especially when prescribed for pain).


9.       Prescription painkiller overdose deaths also frequently involve benzodiazepines.

10.   Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants used as sedatives to induce sleep, prevent seizures, and relieve anxiety.

11.   Examples of benzodiazepines include:

·         Alprazolam (Xanax).

·         Diazepam (Valium).

·         Lorazepam (Altivan).


12.   You can become addicted to painkillers with just one prescription.

13.   About 2 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2013.

14.   Almost 7,000 people are treated in emergency departments every day for misusing these drugs.

15.   Misuse is the use of prescription drugs in a manner other than as directed.

16.   Taking too many prescription painkillers can stop a person’s breathing and cause death.

17.   Cities and states across the U.S. have taken measures to improve painkiller prescribing and prevent prescription misuse, abuse, and overdose.

18.   Abuse is the continued use of illicit or prescription drugs in spite of drug-related problems with relationships, work, school, health, or safety.

19.   People with substance abuse issues often lose control and take drugs in larger amounts or for longer than they intended.

20.   These efforts include regulating pain clinics, using systems to identify fraudulent prescriptions, and improving access to naloxone.

21.   Naloxone is a prescription drug that can counter the effects of an opioid or heroin overdose if administered in time.

22.   Moreover, states can take steps to improve prescribing practices in public insurance programs, such as Medicaid or Workers Compensation programs.

23.   Use of state prescription drug monitoring programs gives healthcare providers information to improve patient safety.

24.   Simultaneously, they preserve patient access to safe and effective pain treatment.

25.   Risk factors for prescription opioid abuse and overdose include:

·         Getting overlapping prescriptions from multiple providers and pharmacies.

·         Taking high daily dosages of prescription painkillers.

·         Having mental illness or a history of alcohol or other substance abuse.

·         Living in rural areas and having low income.


26.   Inappropriate provider prescribing practices and patient use are significantly higher among Medicaid patients than among privately insured patients.    

27.   One study based on 2010 data found that 40% of Medicaid enrollees with painkiller prescriptions had at least one indicator of potentially inappropriate use or prescribing:

·         Overlapping painkiller prescriptions.

·         Overlapping painkiller and benzodiazepine prescriptions.

·         Long-acting or extended release prescription painkillers for acute pain and high daily doses.


28.   The amount of prescription painkillers dispensed in the U.S. quadrupled since 1999 though there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report.

29.   Changes in how providers prescribe painkillers has helped fuel this epidemic.

30.   Painkiller prescribing varies widely between states, something that can't be explained by differences in health issues from state to state. 

31.   Deaths from prescription painkillers have also quadrupled since 1999 – more than 16,000 in the U.S. in 2013.

32.   Nearly two million Americans, aged 12 or older, abused or were opioid-dependent in 2013.

33.   2012 saw the first national drop in prescription overdose deaths since the 1990s, essentially leveling off.

34.   This drop reflects a similar drop in painkiller prescribing rates across the country.

35.   Things to discuss with your doctor:

·         The risks of prescription painkillers and other ways to manage pain.    

·         Planning when and how to stop, should you choose to use prescription painkillers. 

·         Use prescription painkillers only as instructed by your doctor.

·         Store prescription painkillers in a safe place and out of reach of others.

·         Help prevent misuse and abuse by not selling or sharing prescription painkillers.

·         Never use other people's prescription painkillers.


36.   Safe and effective pain management alternatives:

·         Acetaminophen (Tylenol).

·         Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen (Advil).

·         Certain antidepressants and anticonvulsants for neuropathic pain.

·         Physical therapy and exercise.

·         Cognitive behavioral therapy.

·         Biofreeze pain gel (kwrd).

·         Electrotherapy (muscle stimulator TENS units)kwrd.


37.   The most effective pain relief combination is 200mg of ibuprofen + 500mg of acetaminophen.

38.   You would have to add 100mg of acetaminophen to 10mg of oxycodone to make oxycodone as effective as 200mg of ibuprofen.

39.   200mg of ibuprofen gives as much relief as a 10mg shot of morphine.

40.   Healthcare providers in different parts of the country don't agree on when to prescribe opioid painkillers and how much to prescribe.    

41.   Some of the increased demand for prescription opioids is from people who use them non-medically or recreationally, who sell them, or who obtain them from multiple prescribers.    

42.   Many states report problems with for-profit, high-volume pain clinics prescribing large amounts of painkillers to people who don't require them medically.

43.   The majority of people who abuse prescription opioids get them for free from a friend or relative.

44.   People at the highest risk - using prescription opioids non-medically 200 or more days a year – get them in the following ways:

·         27 % use their own prescriptions.

·         26% get them from friends or relatives for free.

·         23% buy them from friends or relatives.

·         15% buy them from a drug dealer.

·         Those at highest risk of overdose are approximately 4 times more likely than the average user to buy from a dealer or other stranger.


45.   Most of the people who died from prescription opioid overdose between 1999 and 2013 were aged 25-54.

46.   That age group had the highest overdose rates of any age group.

47.   The majority were non-Hispanic whites.

48.   The age-adjusted rate of prescription painkiller overdose deaths among non-Hispanic white persons increased 4.3 times, from 1.6 per 100,000 in 1999 to 6.8 per 100,000 in 2013.

49.   The rates more than doubled for non-Hispanic black persons, from 0.9 per 100,000 in 1999 to 2.5 per 100,000 in 2013.

50.   The rates increased only slightly for Hispanic persons, from 1.7 per 100,000 in 1999 to 2.1 per 100,000 in 2013

51.   The rates for American Indian or Alaska Natives increased almost four times from 1.3 per 100,000 in 1999 to 5.1 per 100,000 in 2013.

52.   The overdose rate for adults aged 55 to 64 increased more than seven times during the same period of time.

53.   Men were more likely to die from prescription opioid overdose.

54.   The mortality gap between men and women is closing.

55.   Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women increased more than 400% during 1999–2010, compared to 237% among men.

56.   Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2013.

57.   Drug overdose killed more people than motor vehicle traffic crashes among people aged 25-64.     

58.   There were 43,982 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2013.

59.   22,767 (51.8%) were related to prescription drugs.

60.   Of the 22,767 prescription drug overdose-related deaths in 2013, 71.3% involved opioid painkillers, and 30.6% involved benzodiazepines.    

61.   People who died of drug overdoses often had a combination of benzodiazepines and opioid painkillers in their bodies.      

62.   Drug misuse and abuse caused about 2.5 million emergency department (ED) visits in 2011.

63.   More than 1.4 million ED visits were related to prescription drugs.

64.   Among those ED visits, 501,207 visits were related to anti-anxiety and insomnia medications, and 420,040 visits were related to opioid analgesics.    

65.   Benzodiazepines are frequently found among people treated in EDs for misusing or abusing drugs.

66.   Almost two million Americans, aged 12 or older, abused or were dependent on opioid painkillers in 2013.

67.   Prescription opioid abuse costs were about $55.7 billion in 2007.

68.   46% was attributable to workplace costs, 45% to healthcare costs, and 9% to criminal justice costs.

69.   In 2014, the five states with the highest rates of drug overdose deaths were West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky and Ohio.

70.   States with statistically significant increases in the rate from 2013 to 2014 included Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

71.   Use the smallest quantity of opioid painkillers for the fewest number of days possible.

72.   Get help for substance abuse problems at 1-800-662-HELP. 

73.   Call Poison Help 1-800-222-1222 if you have questions about medicines.

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