The abuse of prescription painkillers has increased dramatically over the last decade, particularly among men, according to a new report by a researcher for the Centers for Disease Control.
Between 2002 and 2010, there was nearly a 75% increase in the number of Americans chronically abusing narcotic painkillers, Christopher M. Jones reported in a research letter published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Chronic abuse was defined as taking a painkiller for nonmedical purposes at least 200 times a year.
Nearly a million people chronically abused prescriptions painkillers in 2010. Another 4.6 million took the drugs for more than 30 days.
Chronic abuse among men aged 18 to 49 increased by over 105%.
“This finding is important because it parallels increases in overdose deaths, treatment admission, and other negative effects associated with opioid pain relievers in recent years,” wrote Jones, who analyzed data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
In 2009 there were 15,597 fatal overdoses involving opioid painkillers such as hydrocodone, oxycodone and methadone — an increase of 109% since 2002.
“These findings underscore the need for concerted public health and public safety action to prevent non-medical use of these drugs,” wrote Jones. “Interventions should focus on populations at greatest risk for chronic nonmedical use: men and persons aged 18 to 49 years.”
One encouraging finding is that chronic abuse of painkillers declined among young people aged 12 to 17 years.
The growing number of Americans chronically abusing painkillers corresponds with a rising number of poisoning deaths. Poisoning is now the leading cause of accidental death among white Americans, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
That study, which focused on the gap in life expectancy rates between blacks and whites, uncovered data showing a sudden increase in poisoning deaths among whites. One possible explanation for that increase is that white Americans have greater access to healthcare — and to opioid medicines.