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National data show stabilization in prescription opioid use rates

February 26, 2015
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Data from a national survey indicate that while use of opioid analgesics doubled from 1988-1994 to 2011-2012, the full increase had occurred by the period of 2003-2006, meaning that opioid use levels have stabilized in recent years.

Other findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) include that opioid use rates were higher among older adults than younger adults, higher among women than men, and lower among Hispanic adults than non-Hispanic whites or blacks.

A total of 6.9% of adults ages 20 and over used a prescription opioid analgesic in the past 30 days in 2011-2012. In the period from 2007-2012, 30-day use rates by age group were 4.7% for adults ages 20 to 39, 8.1% for adults ages 40 to 59, and 7.9% for those ages 60 and over. Buprenorphine and opium were not included in the analysis because they are not primarily used to treat pain.

The survey also showed a growing percentage of prescription opioid users who took a medication stronger than morphine (that category includes the drugs fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone and oxymorphone). In 2011-2012, 37% of opioid users took an opioid stronger than morphine in the past 30 days, compared with 17% in 1999-2002. Opioid-related deaths per 100,000 population more than tripled between 1999 and 2012.