Opioid use in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Opioid use in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Statistics and facts about opioid use in the U.S.

Opioids are narcotic drugs that affect the nervous system and act as a pain reliever. They include synthetic or partly synthetic drugs that mimic opiates, such as heroin. Common prescription opioids include codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, morphine and oxycodone. While opioids are a common and effective method of treating severe and chronic pain, long term use and abuse can lead to addiction, physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms. Opioids are some of the most commonly abused drugs worldwide, with user numbers exceeding those of cocaine and ecstasy.


In recent years, the United States has seen an increase in deaths related to heroin and prescription opioid abuse. This spike in the use of heroin and abuse of prescription opioids has led many to claim that the U.S. is currently going through a heroin and opioid epidemic. However, a recent Statista survey found that a surprising 27 percent of respondents stated they had heard of opioids but were not sure exactly what they are. Access to cheap heroin and the ease of receiving prescriptions for opioids have been seen as causes of the epidemic. The similarity between heroin and opioids also encourages addicts to use these two drugs as alternatives for each other; when an opioid addict finds it difficult to receive a prescription for opioids, heroin can provide a cheap and accessible alternative.

A recent survey from 2016 found 71 percent of respondents felt that heroin abuse was an extremely serious or very serious health problem. Although the dangers of heroin use are well known, the number of people who try heroin for the first time every year has increased in recent years. In 2015, an estimated 828,000 people in the U.S. consumed heroin in the past year, over double the number that was recorded in 2005.

As opioids are used for medical purposes, they can be easier to obtain than other drugs and the associated dangers often misjudged. A Statista survey from 2017 found that a majority of opioid consumption was for post-surgical pain. The estimated number of people who use opioids for nonmedical purposes is much higher than that of recreational heroin use. In 2014, approximately 10.34 million people misused prescription opioids, with one survey finding that 44 percent of respondents personally knew someone who had at some time been addicted to prescription painkillers.

Solutions to tackling the U.S.’s heroin and opioid crises include limiting prescriptions of opioids and improving access to care for those with substance abuse problems. Many believe the federal government and state governments are not doing enough to combat these problems, while others blame the users and patients themselves. Interestingly, one study found that the percentage of people who abused their opioid prescription was almost double in states prohibiting medical marijuana, compared to states that permitted marijuana for medical purposes.



Picture: freeimages.com / Danny de Bruyne

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Facts on opioid use in the U.S.
Global overviewValuesStatistic
High estimate of the percentage of the global population who used opioids in 2014.8% Details →
Country with the highest share of fentanyl consumption worldwide in 2014United States Details →
Country with the highest share of morphine consumption worldwide in 2014United States Details →
U.S. overviewValuesStatistic
Percentage of adults who feared addiction to opioids as of 201715% Details →
Percentage of adults who had not heard of opioids as of 201716% Details →
Share of those aged 12 years and older who found it easy to obtain heroin in 201516.1% Details →
Heroin useValuesStatistic
Number of those aged 12 years and older who consumed heroin in the past year as of 2015828k Details →
Number of adults aged 18 to 25 years who consumed heroin in the past year as of 2015217k Details →
Opioid use ValuesStatistic
Percentage of adults who had used opioids for chronic pain as of 201710% Details →
Percentage of adults who consumed opioids in the last two years as of 201723% Details →
Number of people who used prescription opioids for non medical purposes in 201410.34m Details →
Deaths from opioidsValuesStatistic
Increase in heroin overdose deaths among Caucasians between 2010 to 2014267% Details →
Number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids in 201522,598 Details →
SolutionsValuesStatistic
Percentage of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who had been prescribed opioid-based pain medication for service-related injuries as of 201516% Details →
Percentage of adults who believed state governements were not doing enough to combat prescription painkiller addiction as of 2016 67% Details →
MiscellaneousValuesStatistic
Percentage of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who had been prescribed opioid-based pain medication for service-related injuries as of 201528% Details →


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