1 in 10 Americans Uses a Prescription Painkiller

WEDNESDAY, June 24, 2020 (HealthDay News) — Americans continue to look to the medicine cabinet for pain relief, with 1 in 10 using some type of prescription painkiller, a new U.S. government report says.

But use of prescription opioid painkillers leveled off from 2015 to 2018, while prescriptions for nonopioid pain meds rose, according to the report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This survey and other research is showing that pain management is becoming safer, said Dr. Ajay Wasan, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.

“It is becoming less reliant on opioids, and physicians are prescribing much more responsibly,” said Wasan, who is co-director of the Center for Innovation in Pain Care at the University of Pittsburgh.

Between 2015 and 2018, nearly 11% of American adults aged 20 and over used at least one prescription opioid like oxycodone or a nonopioid like Celebrex, investigators found.

Breaking that down, they found that nearly 6% of American adults used one or more prescription opioid painkillers, while 5% used a nonopioid prescription pain medication to quell their aches and pains.

“Physicians should look first at nonopioid drugs to manage pain and then if nonopioid medications don’t work, think about opioids,” said researcher Dr. Qiuping Gu, an epidemiologist at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

For the study, Gu and colleagues used data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Other findings:

  • More women than men used prescription opioids in the past 30 days, and use increased with age.
  • Use of any prescription pain medication was highest among whites (nearly 12%), compared to Blacks (about 10%) and Hispanics (8.5%). Use was lowest among Asians (4.5%).
  • Between 2009 and 2010 and between 2017 and 2018, there was no significant change in the use of prescription opioids, while the use of prescription nonopioids rose.

Despite a leveling off of prescription opioids, which is good news given the nation’s addiction epidemic, their use remains a concern.

“When taking into account that 21% to 29% of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain may misuse them, and 8% to 12% of these patients may develop opioid use disorder, the survey data showing greater than 1 of 20 U.S. adults using opioids for pain continues to be problematic,” said Dr. Yili Huang, director of the Pain Management Center at Northwell Health Phelps Hospital in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.