Addiction to opioid drugs such as heroin and prescription painkillers (Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, etc.) is now a global health crisis. It negatively affects the health, social, and economic well-being of all humanity. With an estimated 26.4 to 36 million individuals abusing opioids worldwide, this phenomenon has been referred to as a “public health epidemic.”
Upon further examination of some disturbing statistics, I now view opioid addiction as a plague that is sweeping across the US and other nations with merciless force. This plague is unbiased, as it doesn’t care about race, sex, age, culture, income, location, values, beliefs, and any other demographics or psychographics…no one is exempt.
But it was not always this out of control.
When I was eleven years of age, I was exposed to the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E) program at my elementary school. The main purpose of DARE was to teach peer resistance and refusal skills to adolescents so they could learn to “just say no to drugs.” Along with this primary goal, DARE also strived to enhance students’ social skills and self-esteem. I remember proudly wearing my DARE t-shit to school every Thursday, at which time we had weekly classes educating us on the dangers of using drugs.
After completing the DARE program, I didn’t want to use drugs of any kind…especially heroin. For me, this “King of Drugs” evoked an image of a homeless “street addict” who was passed out in a tunnel with a dirty needle stuck in his arm. “No thank you,” I thought to myself.
Table of Contents
Opioid Addiction Statistics – Abuse on the Rise
I started high school in San Diego, California, in the Fall of 1994, and I hadn’t even heard of prescription drugs such as Vicodin or Percocet. I attended Point Loma High School, which was often referred to as “Pot Loma” or “Joint Loma,” in reference to the high percentage of students that smoked marijuana.
It was common for students to smoke pot or take LSD before, and even during school hours. Many of the jocks and other popular kids would use alcohol and cocaine at parties, though these drugs were not as commonly used as marijuana.
Nowadays, things are much different.
Opioid drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet, OxyContin, and even heroin are frequently used in high schools in the same fashion that marijuana was used when I went to school.
Opioid Addiction Statistics – Numbers and Facts
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that an estimated 20% of individuals aged 12 and older have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once. Furthermore, around 1 in 12 high school seniors have reported nonmedical use of Vicodin in the past year, while about 1 in 20 also reported abusing OxyContin.
Starting in 2012, while working as a Substance Abuse Counselor at an Opiate Treatment Program (OTP), I frequently met with young adults that told me they started abusing prescription opioids or heroin by the age of 15. Some of these patients even stated that heroin was the first drug they ever tried, bypassing both marijuana, alcohol, and prescription opioids altogether.
This is a very troublesome notion, and I wish I could tell you this problem did not go beyond adolescents and young adults. Unfortunately, opioid abuse stretches far and wide. The following is a detailed list of opioid addiction statistics taken directly from a pdf file located on The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) website, which is titled “Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures.” As you’ll see, the opioid addiction stats are growing at an exponential rate.
Opioid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures
- Of the 21.5 million Americans aged 12 and older that had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 586,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin.
- It is estimated that 23% of individuals who use heroin develop an opioid addiction.
- Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the US, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014. Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.
- From 1999 to 2008, overdose death rates, sales and substance use disorder treatment admissions related to prescription pain relievers increased in parallel. The overdose death rate in 2008 was nearly four times the 1999 rate; sales of prescription pain relievers in 2010 were four times those in 1999, and the substance use disorder treatment admission rate in 2009 was six times the 1999 rate.
- In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, which is more than enough to give every American adult their own bottle of pills.
- Four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers. As a consequence, the rate of heroin overdose deaths nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2013. During this 14-year period, the rate of heroin overdose showed an average increase of 6% per year from 2000 to 2010, followed by a larger average increase of 37% per year from 2010 to 2013.
- 94% of respondents in a 2014 survey of people in treatment for opioid addiction said they chose to use heroin because prescription opioids were “far more expensive and harder to obtain.”
Here are more opioid addiction statistics. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Nearly 15,000 die every year of overdoses involving prescription painkillers.
- Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult around-the-clock for a month.
- Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers.
- Many more men than women die of overdoses from prescription painkillers.
- Middle-aged adults have the highest prescription painkiller overdose rates.
- People in rural counties are twice as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities.
- Whites and American Indian or Alaska Natives are more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers.
- Each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the US.
- 10 of the highest prescribing states for painkillers are in the South.
- Deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses among women have increased more than 400% since 1999, compared to 265% among men.
The opioid addiction statistics confirm that opioid dependence is public health epidemic. Opioid addiction is running rampant in this society, as well as many others. The numbers of opioid abusers, emergency room visits, deaths, incarcerations, and admissions to rehab facilities have been on the rise for a long time, and things are only getting worse, not better.
In an attempt to help these opioid-dependent individuals, agonist and antagonist medications have become readily available and easily accessible to the masses. Scientific research has established that medication-assisted treatment of opioid addiction is associated with decreases in the number of overdoses from heroin abuse, increases retention of patients in treatment and decreases drug use, infectious disease transmission, and criminal activity.
Yet, despite all of these encouraging statistics, the opioid addiction plague is still growing.
And while the advent of these medications has certainly enabled many individuals to get their lives back on track, what we are now witnessing is an army of people that are stuck on Suboxone, Subutex, and methadone.
Though a very small percentage of people have decided they want to be on these medications for the rest of their lives, the vast majority want off. However, this is easier said than done, as these medications are often more difficult to come off than the opioids people were previously using.
In fact, a large percentage of the visitors to my blog are looking for information on how they can get off these medications. I’ve corresponded with a plethora of individuals that only planned on using these medications short-term, yet here they are 5-10 years later, still dependent to opioids, desperately seeking advice on how they can discontinue these drugs without getting sick.
I relate to their struggles on a very personal level because I too was once stuck on these medications longer than I anticipated. And what’s more, within a few months of coming off Suboxone the first time, I was back to snorting oxycodone again, thus my addiction quickly resurfaced. Many others have endured the same fate. Opioid addiction left untreated, or treated in an ineffective way, is a chronic, and relapsing condition.
The opioid addiction statistics don’t lie. If something drastic isn’t done about the opioid epidemic soon, the death rates will likely continue to rise at an exponential rate.