4.5% are Abusing Their Prescribed Opioids

Study: 32% of opioid prescriptions are abused in the US, but… by only 4.5% of patients (which is noticeably missing from the article’s headline) | April 20, 2016

Nationally, 4.5 percent of individuals who have received an opioid prescriptions abuse the medication and account for 32 percent of total opioid prescriptions and 40 percent of opioid prescription spending, 

Naturally, the original headline uses the higher, more alarming statistics, even though the percentage of people abusing opioids are far more important than the number of prescriptions.

Only a tiny portion of drug abusers accounts for a disproportionate number of prescriptions and spending:  approximately 1/3 of all opioids are prescribed to about 1/20 of patients.  

Such extreme behavior should be obvious, so finding the patients who are abusing their medications should not require hassling every pain patient to find the culprits.

Those are the few on which we should be concentrating all these overdose prevention efforts because they are the ones that might overdose, not the 96.5% that take their medicine properly.

…according to findings from Castlight Health’s report, “The Opioid Crisis in America’s Workforce.”

Certain patient demographics increase the chances of opioid abuse, according to the report.

  • Baby boomers are four times more likely (7.4 percent) to abuse opioids than millennials (2 percent).
  • Patients who live in low-income areas are twice as likely to abuse prescription painkillers as individuals in affluent areas.
  • Additionally, opioid abusers are more likely to live in the rural South; 22 of the top 25 U.S. cities for opioid abuse are primarily rural and located in Southern states.
  • Among the top 30 largest U.S. cities, eight have higher-than-average opioid abuse rates, including
    • Las Vegas (7.4 percent),
    • Charlotte, N.C. (6.2 percent),
    • Kansas City, Mo. (5.1 percent)
    • Portland, Ore. (5.0 percent),
    • Tampa, Fla. (5.0 percent),
    • Indianapolis (4.9 percent),
    • Orlando, Fla. (4.6 percent), and
    • San Antonio (4.6 percent).
  • Among the top 30 largest U.S. cities, eight have a higher percentage of opioid prescriptions abused than the national benchmark of 32 percent.
    These cities include

    • Charlotte, N.C. (44 percent),
    • Las Vegas (41 percent),
    • Kansas City, Mo. (38 percent),
    • Portland, Ore. (38 percent),
    • Tampa, Fla. (37 percent),
    • Indianapolis (35 percent),
    • Chicago (33 percent), and
    • Dallas (33 percent).

It’s interesting how the higher abuse rates do not match the higher percentage of opioid prescriptions abused. (I can’t figure out what this means–if anything–so perhaps a smarter person could explain it)

Castlight Health conducted research on opioid abuse based on aggregated reporting from medical and pharmacy-based claims covering nearly 1 million Americans who use Castlight’s health benefits program. The study leverages Castlight’s medical and pharmacy reporting over the five-year period from 2011 to 2015.  


3 thoughts on “4.5% are Abusing Their Prescribed Opioids

  1. Sara

    I’m pretty sure “higher-than-average opioid abuse rates” = more patients prescribed opioids who abuse them, and “higher percentage of opioid prescriptions abused” = more prescriptions written that wind up used recreationally/diverted/sold etc.


  2. Sara

    Sorry, hit post too soon!

    I would guess the discrepancies in which city has more of each, is that some cities have lots of opioid abusers who talk their way into relatively few illicit rxes (probably docs are stingier w meds in areas with lots of drug abusers) and some cities have a ‘normal’ abuse rate, but some fearsomely skilled con artists who are bilking the system of lots and lots of pills.

    I’m usually sympathetic to people with drug issues, because nobody chooses to take opioids every day unless there’s either something seriously wrong with them (physically or psychologically) or literally nothing better to do with their lives. But they do make life a lot tougher for us pain patients!


  3. Pingback: People with chronic pain suffer because of heroin users | EDS Info (Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome)

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