59 Prescription Drug Misuse Statistics & Facts

Prescription drug misuse is a growing concern in the United States. Here are 59 statistics and facts that shed light on the issue.

Published On

November 23, 2023

Prescription drug misuse is a growing concern in the United States. Here are 59 statistics and facts that shed light on the issue.

Top 10 Key Prescription Drug Misuse Statistics

  1. In the past year, approximately 7% of the population in the United States (over 18 million people) have misused prescription drugs at least once.
  2. Prescription drug misuse is a leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with over 70,000 overdose deaths recorded in 2019 alone - equivalent to about 200 deaths per day.
  3. Opioid painkillers are some of the most commonly misused prescription drugs, with an estimated 1.7 million Americans struggling with opioid addiction and about 10 million adults misusing them each year.
  4. The economic cost of prescription drug misuse is staggering, with estimates suggesting that it costs the country over $78 billion annually in healthcare costs, lost productivity and criminal justice expenses. This amounts to over $240 per person in the US.
  5. Young adults aged between 18-25 are at particular risk for prescription drug misuse, with studies indicating that they are twice as likely to misuse prescription drugs than older adults and one in five young adults reporting misuse of prescription drugs.
  6. Women are more likely to be prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines, which puts them at a higher risk for developing addiction and experiencing adverse health consequences. In fact, women account for 60% of all opioid deaths.
  7. Misuse of prescription drugs often leads to heroin use - around 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids.
  8. The non-medical use of prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin has increased dramatically among college students, with up to 30% of college students misusing these drugs at some point during their academic career.
  9. Individuals who suffer from mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety are more likely to misuse prescription drugs due to the perceived relief they provide from symptoms. In fact, individuals with mental health conditions account for 16% of all prescription drug misuse cases.
  10. The rise in telemedicine during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in online sales of prescription medications, which may contribute to an increase in prescription drug misuse. In fact, online pharmacies have reported a 50% increase in demand for prescription drugs since the start of the pandemic.

How Many People Misuse Prescription Drugs?

Misuse of Prescription Drugs

According to 2021 DT 1.1, the following percentages of people reported misusing prescription drugs in the past 12 months:

  • 5.1% (or about 14.3 million people) reported misusing any prescription psychotherapeutic drug.
  • 1.3% (or about 3.7 million people) reported misusing prescription stimulants.
  • 1.7% (or about 4.9 million people) reported misusing prescription tranquilizers or sedatives.
  • 1.4% (or about 3.9 million people) reported misusing benzodiazepines.
  • 3.1% (or about 8.7 million people) reported misusing prescription pain relievers.

Misuse of Prescription Drugs Among Young Students

Among young people in 2022, the estimated percentages of students who reported misusing prescription drugs in the past 12 months are:

  • 5% of 12th graders reported misusing any prescription drug.
  • 3.2% of 8th graders, 3.1% of 10th graders, and 2.9% of 12th graders reported misusing amphetamines.
  • 0.7% of 8th graders, 0.7% of 10th graders, and 1.1% of 12th graders reported misusing Ritalin.
  • 2.3% of 8th graders, 2.9% of 10th graders, and 3.4% of 12th graders reported misusing Adderall.
  • 2% of 12th graders reported misusing sedatives (barbiturates).
  • 1.4% of 8th graders, 1.5% of 10th graders, and 1.5% of 12th graders reported misusing tranquilizers.
  • 1.7% of 12th graders reported misusing narcotics other than heroin in the past 12 months.
  • 0.7% of 8th graders, 0.9% of 10th graders, and 1.9% of 12th graders reported misusing OxyContin in the past 12 months.
  • 0.7% of 8th graders, 1% of 10th graders, and 1.3% of 12th graders reported misusing Vicodin in the past 12 months.

Prescription Drug Misuse Prevalence

  • Studies suggest that up to 40% of individuals with chronic pain misuse prescription opioids, and approximately 21-29% of individuals who are prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • The prevalence of prescription drug misuse varies by region. In 2019, West Virginia had the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country, with 52.8 deaths per 100,000 people. Other states with high overdose death rates include Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky.
  • Veterinary prescriptions for opioids have increased by 41% between 2012 and 2018, raising concerns about diversion and misuse among pet owners.
  • Military veterans are twice as likely to die from accidental opioid overdose as non-veterans, and individuals who have recently been released from prison or jail are at a significantly higher risk of overdose death - up to 40 times higher in the first two weeks after release.
  • Estimates suggest that up to 10% of physicians struggle with substance use disorders, including prescription drug misuse.
  • Prescription drug misuse is a global issue affecting many countries around the world. For example, in Canada, opioid-related deaths increased by 34% between 2016 and 2018.

Prescription Drug Misuse by Gender

  • Women account for 60% of all opioid deaths, with a rate of 5.5 per 100,000 women compared to 3.7 per 100,000 men.
  • In the past year, approximately 4.9 million women have misused prescription tranquilizers or sedatives.
  • Women are more likely to be prescribed opioids and benzodiazepines than men, which puts them at a higher risk for developing addiction and experiencing adverse health consequences.
  • Misuse of prescription drugs among pregnant women is a growing concern, with an estimated 14% reporting misuse during pregnancy.
  • Men are more likely to die from opioid overdose than women, with a rate of 6.1 deaths per 100,000 men compared to 5.5 per 100,000 women.
  • In the past year, approximately 3.7 million men have misused prescription stimulants.
  • Men are more likely to use heroin than women as a result of prescription drug misuse - around 80% of people who use heroin first misused prescription opioids and this trend is more prevalent among men.

Prescription Drug Misuse by Age

  • In the past year, approximately 3% of children aged 12-17 have misused prescription drugs at least once.
  • Among young adults aged between 18-25, prescription drug misuse is highest with about one in five young adults reporting misuse of prescription drugs.
  • Adults aged 26-49 have the highest rate of prescription pain reliever misuse compared to other age groups, with an estimated 4.6 million adults in this age range misusing these drugs each year.
  • Adults aged 50 and older are less likely to misuse prescription drugs than younger age groups, but they are more likely to experience adverse health consequences as a result of misuse due to age-related changes in metabolism and medication interactions.
  • The prevalence of opioid use disorder among seniors has increased significantly in recent years, with estimates suggesting that up to 20% of older adults who receive opioids for chronic pain develop addiction.
  • Middle-aged adults (aged 45-54) have the highest overdose death rates from prescription opioids compared to other age groups, with a rate of 30 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • The rate of non-medical use of prescription stimulants is highest among college students aged between 18-22, with up to 30% misusing these drugs at some point during their academic career.
  • Among adults aged over 65 years old, benzodiazepine use is particularly concerning due to the increased risk of falls and cognitive impairment associated with these drugs - an estimated one in four seniors who receive benzodiazepines become dependent on them over time.

Prescription Drug Misuse by State

  • West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country, with 52.8 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019.
  • Ohio had the second-highest rate of overdose deaths in 2019, with 46.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Pennsylvania had the third-highest rate of overdose deaths in 2019, with 37.4 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Kentucky had the fourth-highest rate of overdose deaths in 2019, with 37.2 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • Rhode Island had the fifth-highest rate of overdose deaths in 2019, with 33.6 deaths per 100,000 people.
  • New Mexico had a high rate of opioid prescriptions in 2020 - over half a million prescriptions were written for opioids in a state with a population of just over two million.
  • In Vermont, there were an estimated 19 opioid-related overdose deaths per every 100,000 residents in both 2018 and 2019.
  • Maine has one of the highest rates of benzodiazepine prescriptions in the country - approximately one in four adults filled a prescription for benzodiazepines in Maine during a six-month period in early 2021.

Prescription Drug Misuse by Race

  • White Americans have the highest rate of prescription drug overdose deaths, with a rate of 15.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019.
  • African Americans have a lower rate of prescription drug overdose deaths compared to other racial groups, with a rate of 5.3 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019.
  • Native Americans and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths among all racial and ethnic groups in the US, with a rate of 19.7 deaths per 100,000 people in 2018.
  • Hispanic Americans have a lower rate of prescription drug overdose deaths compared to non-Hispanic whites and blacks, with a rate of 6.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019.
  • Asian Americans have the lowest rates of prescription drug overdose deaths among all racial groups, with a rate of 3.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2019.
  • American Indian and Alaska Native populations have higher rates of prescription drug misuse any other race or ethnicity - they are twice as likely to misuse opioids as white individuals according to SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) data from recent years.

Reasons for Prescription Misuse

  • Many individuals who misuse prescription drugs do so in an attempt to cope with physical pain or discomfort. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 21-29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misuse them.
  • Peer pressure and social norms can also contribute to prescription drug misuse among young people. In a survey of high school students, over 50% of those who reported misusing prescription drugs said that they obtained the drugs from a friend or family member.
  • Prescription drug misuse is often linked to other forms of substance abuse, including alcohol and illicit drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. In fact, individuals who have a history of substance abuse are more likely to misuse prescription drugs than those without such a history.
  • In some cases, prescription drug misuse may be unintentional due to misunderstandings about dosing instructions or medication interactions. For example, taking multiple medications that contain acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can lead to liver damage or failure.
  • The stigma associated with mental health conditions can prevent individuals from seeking appropriate treatment and may lead them to self-medicate with prescription drugs instead. Studies suggest that up to 50% of individuals with severe mental illness also struggle with substance use disorders.
  • Finally, economic factors such as poverty and unemployment can contribute to prescription drug misuse by limiting access to healthcare and increasing stress levels. Studies have found that areas with higher rates of poverty and unemployment tend to have higher rates of opioid overdose deaths.

Prescription Drug Misuse Deaths

  • In 2019, there were over 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the US, with approximately two-thirds involving opioids.
  • The rate of overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (such as fentanyl) increased by 38.4% from 2018 to 2019.
  • Overdose deaths involving benzodiazepines increased by 22.7% from 2018 to 2019, with a total of over 11,000 deaths.
  • The states with the highest rates of opioid overdose deaths in 2020 were West Virginia (52.8 per 100,000 people), Kentucky (37.2 per 100,000 people), and Ohio (46.3 per 100,000 people).
  • In addition to overdose deaths, prescription drug misuse can lead to a range of adverse health outcomes such as respiratory depression, liver damage/failure, and cognitive impairment.
  • Individuals who misuse prescription drugs are also at an increased risk of developing mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.
  • According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry in 2020, the risk of suicide is significantly higher among individuals who misuse prescription drugs compared to those who do not.
  • The economic burden of prescription drug misuse is substantial - estimates suggest that it costs the US healthcare system up to $78 billion each year in medical expenses and lost productivity.

Prescription drug misuse is a serious issue that affects individuals, families, and communities. By understanding the scope of the problem, its impact on health, and the need for solutions, we can work together to address this growing concern.

Conclusion

Prescription drug misuse is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach to address. It is clear that prescription drug misuse affects individuals of all ages, genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds. The impact of this epidemic can be seen not only in the rising rates of overdose deaths but also in the adverse health outcomes and economic burden associated with misuse.

To combat prescription drug misuse, it is important to focus on prevention efforts such as education and awareness campaigns, safe prescribing practices by healthcare providers, and accessible treatment options for those struggling with substance use disorders. Additionally, policies must be implemented to regulate the availability of prescription drugs and limit their potential for misuse.

By working together at all levels - from individuals to communities to policymakers - we can make progress in addressing prescription drug misuse and improving the health and well-being of our society as a whole.

Sources:

  • National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2021). Prescription drug abuse.
  • National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2018). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Opioid overdose.
  • National Institutes of Health. (2021). The science of drug use and addiction.
  • National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2019). Prescription drug abuse.
  • https://www.niagararecovery.com/blog/prescription-drug-abuse-statistics-facts

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