One in three U.S. adults takes opioids, and many misuse them


POPPING PILLS  Nearly 92 million U.S. adults used prescription opioids in 2015, a new study estimates. More than 11 million people misused the painkillers and almost 2 million people had opioid dependence or abuse.

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Nearly 5 percent of U.S. adults misused prescription opioids in 2015, a new study shows.

Based on the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an in-person survey of more than 50,000 people, researchers estimate that 91.8 million, or 37.8 percent, of adults used prescription opioids in 2015. Some 11.5 million people misused the painkillers, and 1.9 million people reported opioid dependence or abuse, Beth Han of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Rockville, Md., and colleagues report online August 1 in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Relieving pain was the most commonly cited reason for people’s most recent episode of misuse — for 66 percent of those reporting misuse, such as using without a prescription, and nearly 49 percent of those with opioid dependence or abuse. (Respondents could report more than one reason for their last misuse.) These results underscore the need for improved pain management, the authors say.

Kate Travis was the digital director of Science News until December 2021, overseeing editorial website operations and other digital endeavors. She has a B.A. in journalism and an M.S. in science and technology journalism, both from Texas A&M University.

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