Rates of opioid abuse in North America have levelled, but remain disturbingly high, and do not seem to be declining, according to results of a retrospective study presented on October 22 at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA).
Using 2000 to 2014 data from the annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health, Asokumar Buvanendran, MD and Mario Moric, MS, both from Rush Medical College, Chicago, Illinois, found that while 8.6% of Americans abused opioids in 2000, that percentage grew to 13.2% by 2003, and has remained fairly stable ever since.
The researchers determined that, in 2014, 13.6% of Americans acknowledged abusing opioids, slightly above the number of Americans reported to have been abusing opioids in 2003.
According to Dr. Buvanendran and Moric, the most frequently prescribed — and therefore, the most frequently abused — drug is hydrocodone. The researchers found that the use of hydrocodone — which includes Vicodin — increased from 3.2% in 2000 to 9.1% in 2014, while the use of oxycontin increased from less than 1% in 2000 to 3% in 2014.
These findings suggest that, while abuse of prescription pain medication is not increasing at the pace seen in the early 2000s, it remains “disturbingly high,” and does not appear to be decreasing. Hydrocodone, in particular, remains a problem, despite the fact that oxycontin seems to receive more attention.
“With the new awareness of the opioid epidemic by the general population, and the steps taken…to curb the epidemic, we hope to see these rates decline in the near future,” the authors concluded.
This National Survey on Drug Use and Health is the primary source of information on the prevalence, patterns, and consequences of alcohol, tobacco, and illegal drug use and abuse in the United States among the civilian, non-institutionalised population, aged 12 and older. The survey asks Americans whether they have taken prescription opioids without a prescription written for them (constituting abuse) at any time in their lives.
[Presentation title: A Comparison of the Abuse of Key Prescription Opioid Medications Trend Over Time Using A Nationally Representative Database. Abstract A2244]