Non-medical use of opioids increasing; few states have plans to prevent overdoses: reports

prescription bottles

Photo: Pamela Moore/iStockphoto

Bethesda, MD – The number of U.S. adults using prescription opioids without a prescription or not as prescribed has more than doubled in 10 years to nearly 10 million in 2012-2013, according to research from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Researchers examined data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III about alcohol and drug use and disorders, as well as mental health conditions, among Americans. More than 11 percent have used prescription opioid painkillers for nonmedical reasons, up from 4.7 percent 10 years earlier.

“The increasing misuse of prescription opioid pain relievers poses a myriad of serious public health consequences,” Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a press release. “These include increases in opioid use disorders and related fatalities from overdoses, as well as the rising incidence of newborns who experience neonatal abstinence syndrome. In some instances, prescription opioid misuse can progress to intravenous heroin use with consequent increases in risk for HIV, hepatitis C and other infections among individuals sharing needles.”

The researchers also found that many people who misuse prescription drugs don’t receive treatment: About 5 percent of people who had misused prescription opioids in the past year and 17 percent of those with prescription opioid use disorder reported getting help.

The researchers suggested the increasing rate of opioid use may be because doctors are prescribing the drugs more often, and that people may not know or understand the risks and potential for addiction.

The study was published online June 22 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

In related news, the National Safety Council has determined that 28 states lack “a comprehensive, proven plan to eliminate prescription opioid overdoses,” according to a report released June 23.

NSC identified six indicators of “immediate and sustained impact” in protecting residents from opioids:

  • Mandating continued medical education for prescribers (17 states)
  • Incorporating guidelines for prescribing opioids (22 states)
  • Passing legislation that bans “pill mills” – a doctor, clinic or pharmacy that sells medication to people who don’t need it (12 states)
  • Increasing use of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (40 states)
  • Authorizing naloxone prescriptions with a standing order (35 states)
  • Expanding access to buprenorphine to narrow the “treatment gap” (3 states)

States were ranked based on their work in the six areas. Only Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee and Vermont received a “making progress” rating.

Lack of treatment options is the most significant issue, according to NSC. Only Maine, New Mexico and Vermont have the necessary resources for treating the number of residents with opioid use disorders.

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