Prescription Drug Statistics

In this article we take a look at prescription drug statistics. See how much painkiller abuse has increased in the last few years. Also, the astonishing stats on how many deaths are the result of drug abuse of pain medication every year.

Painkiller abuse has been rising steadily in the U.S. since the 1980s. Prescription drug statistics indicate, teens are the group most likely to abuse painkillers, but painkiller abuse and addiction can affect anyone. Along with this rise in painkiller abuse is an increase in the number of addictions and deaths related to painkillers.

Most people who take prescription drugs use them correctly and legally, and painkillers greatly improve the quality of life for the 30 million Americans who suffer from chronic pain, as well as surgery patients. But Americans are using more painkillers than ever, and this increases the risk and incidents of painkiller abuse and addition.

  • Painkillers are the most commonly abused prescription drugs.
  • The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of painkillers, using 71 percent of the world’s oxycodone and 99 percent of the world’s hydrocodone, or Vicodin.
  • In 1991 there were 40 million prescriptions for painkillers worldwide, but by 2001, there were 180 million painkiller prescriptions, most of them in the U.S.
  • 7 of the 11 drugs most commonly abused by high school students are prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
  • A 2006 survey found that 7 million people 12 and over had abused prescription or over the counter drugs in the past 30 days. Most abused painkillers.
  • 2.2 million people age 12 and up started abusing painkillers in the last year.
  • Young adults, age 18 to 25, show the most painkiller use and the greatest increases in abuse.
  • About 1 in 4 teens will abuse prescription drugs before they graduate from high school
  • Emergency room visits related to painkiller use rose 153 percent from 1995 to 2002.
  • Admissions to drug treatment programs for people using painkillers rose 321 percent from 1995 to 2005.
  • The number of people abusing painkillers is estimated to have risen from half a million to 2.5 million between 1985 and 2002.
  • Deaths related to painkiller use rose 160 percent from 1999 to 2004.
  • The abuse of painkillers causes more deaths than heroine and cocaine combined.

The abuse of painkillers among teens has received a great deal of attention from the media and researchers. Prescription drug abuse is second only to marijuana use as a problem among teens. Teens, though, are not the only group at risk for painkiller abuse. Older Americans and women are also at increased risk for painkiller abuse.

  • About 1 in 5 teens gets high by abusing painkillers.
  • Over 2 million teens reported abusing prescription drugs in 2006.
  • 2,500 teens abuses prescription drugs for the first time each day.
  • Though men and boys are far more likely to abuse street drugs, women and teen girls are more likely to abuse prescription drugs, partly because painkiller abuse is more socially acceptable than street drug use.
  • Women are more likely than men to end up in the emergency room or a drug treatment program due to abuse of prescription drugs.
  • Men generally abuse drugs for the feelings of pleasure, while women are more likely to do so to get a perceived release from their problems
  • Though older adults make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, they get about 33 percent of the prescription medications.
  • Experts predict that abuse of prescription drugs among older adults will increase by 190 percent by 2020.

Teen prescription drug abuse is linked to increase rates of delinquent behavior and an increase in the rates of depression by 3 times. Also, teens who abuse painkillers are more likely to abuse other drugs, including tobacco and alcohol. This is why it is important to watch for, prevent, and treat painkiller abuse among teens.

Prevention of painkiller abuse starts with patients keeping track of their painkillers and not abusing them or allowing others to do so. More than 55 percent of painkiller abusers get their drugs from friends or family members. Only about 4 percent get painkillers from illegal dealers or strangers, and about .1 percent get their painkillers from the Internet.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, Family Guide: Keeping Youth Mentally Healthy and Drug Free, A Prescription for Danger - Use of Painkillers on the Rise [online]
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and SAMHSA’s National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information, Prescription Drugs [online]
Office of National Drug Control Policy, Press Release, Females Bucking National Drug Abuse Trends, April 30, 2007 [online]
Statement by Nora D. Volkow, M.D., Director National Institute on Drug Abuse National Institutes of Health U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Scientific Research on Prescription Drug Abuse before Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, Wednesday, March 12, 2008 [online]

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