Overdoses involving prescription painkillers—a class of drugs that includes hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone—are a public health epidemic. These drugs are widely misused and abused. One in 20 people in the United States, ages 12 and older, used prescription painkillers nonmedically (without a prescription or just for the "high" they cause) in 2010. A recent CDC analysis discusses this growing epidemic and suggested measures for prevention.
A Public Health Epidemic
The problem of prescription painkiller overdoses has reached epidemic proportions.
• Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 15,000 people in the US in 2008. This is more than 3 times the 4,000 people killed by these drugs in 1999.
• In 2010, about 12 million Americans (age 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year.
• Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers.
• Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs.
Groups at Greatest Risk
Certain groups are more likely to abuse or overdose on prescription painkillers:
• Many more men than women die of overdoses from prescription painkillers.
• Middle-aged adults have the highest prescription painkiller overdose rates.
• People in rural counties are about two times as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities.
• Whites and American Indian or Alaska Natives are more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers.
• About 1 in 10 American Indian or Alaska Natives age 12 or older used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the past year, compared to 1 in 20 whites and 1 in 30 blacks.