U.S.: 5% of World Population; 80% of Opioid Consumption

Monday, December 15, 2014

Studies have shown that the United States, with less than 5% of the world’s population, uses 80% of the global supply of opioid drugs. A new report has put that use in perspective, pinpointing how Americans’ dependence on the drugs has become a national problem.


The way the drugs are being prescribed can sometimes lead to addiction. “Nearly 60% of patients using opioids were taking a combination of drugs that are dangerous and potentially fatal; among these mixtures, almost one in three patients were prescribed anti-anxiety drugs known as benzodiazepines along with an opioid – the most common cause of overdose deaths involving multiple drugs,” the report (pdf), published by pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts, said.


The report also showed that opioids are most often used in more rural areas. The states with the highest average prevalence of opioid use are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Kentucky. The report suggests two explanations for that: One is that more people in those regions suffer from diseases such as obesity and diabetes, two conditions that can result in needing pain medication. The second is that there is less access to specialized medical care and opioids may be prescribed more frequently to compensate for that.


The research did find a 9.2% drop in the number of people using opioid drugs, but the number of prescriptions and the duration of each prescription increased by 8.4%. The decline came from a drop in short-term users of opioids. The number of long-term users, such as cancer patients, held steady.


Another warning sign springing from the report is that those who remain on opioids for more than 30 days tend to keep using them for three years or more. About half those people are using short-term opioids, instead of those formulated for long-term use. Short-term opioid use is more likely to result in addiction.


The report found that generally, the older you are, the more likely you are to use opioid drugs. However, those aged 20 to 44 who use opioids take more of them. They filled an average of 10.3 prescriptions in 2013.

-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

America’s Pain Points (Express Scripts)

A Nation in Pain (Express Scripts) (pdf)

U.S. Doctors Prescribe Opiate Painkillers at Twice the Rate of any other Country…and 500,000 Veterans are Dependent (by Steve Straehley, AllGov)


sam 7 years ago
Steve Buecker, are you saying millions of people in other countries do not have chronic pain problems? let me tell you we have many.... but we have different perspective on dealing with pain,,, we grew up knowing pain is part of life ,, we have higher pain tolerance i guess coz many women gave birth naturally without any pain meds...
Lisa 8 years ago
I saw the same program....and as a person working in a pharmacy I see the people coming in for these types of medications.....those that have chronic pain and/or cancer....and those that are gettings 30 day supplies for an ankle sprain..they did let the woman with the chronic pain say her whole story....and didn't cut her short....but their main focus is on these doctors that are over prescribing and causing people to become addicted!!! I live and work roughly 20 mins away from the pharmacy where 4 people were killed on Long Island by an individual addicted to pain medication.....it's a scary time....there is NO REASON for a dr to over prescribe a controlled medication for a car accident...a dental extraction....a broken foot....etc....it's getting better..because there are programs in place to check for dr shopping..and multiple scripts....gone are the days of paying cash and going under the radar....we only give a 48 hour window to give the next 30 day prescription....and sometimes it's only 24 hours...it's time America wakes up and starts controlling this problem!!!
Steve Buecker 8 years ago
The recent show on CNN regarding America's overuse of opiates was certainly one-sided. Many Americans including myself have suffered chronic pain for years and have gone to any means for relief. I have had 2 back surgeries, the first at age 25 when that surgery was extremely intrusive. I had another back surgery called microsurgery in the 80's. The result of these surgeries left me with a weakened back and spinal stenosis. After years of trying everything, the use of opioids gave me the relief I need to lead a more normal life. The one person on CNN's special that was telling her story was kind of cut off because all they wanted to present was the addiction from opioids and their tragic effect. We need to look at the issue of the millions of Americans suffering chronic pain. Dr. Gupta and the other Dr. who is celebrity are too one-sided to be objective!

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