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 estimated 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.

Among people reporting opioid misuse, nearly 60 percent used the painkillers without a prescription, 22 percent took a bigger dose than prescribed, about 15 percent used them more frequently than directed, and 13 percent of people used them for longer than directed.

Relieving pain was the most commonly cited reason for misusing opioids — for 66 percent of people reporting misuse and nearly 49 percent of those with opioid dependence or abuse. These results underscore the urgent need for better approaches to pain management, the authors conclude.

As part of the efforts to curb the nation’s opioid epidemic — and pain problem — scientists are searching for safer opioids and opioid alternatives.

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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