More Americans Misused Painkillers Last Year Than Live in New York City

And other startling numbers from a new federal report on drug abuse.

<a href="http://www.istockphoto.com/photo/drugs-spilled-out-gm509483224-85801929?st=_p_prescription%20painkillers">txking</a>/iStock

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


Last year, nearly half of the US population used a prescription pain reliever, stimulant, sedative, or tranquilizer, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). One in 14 Americans older than 11 misused or abused the drugs; 1 in 21 misused painkillers. The high numbers may help explain why drug overdoses now kill more people each year than car accidents or gun violence.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, SAMHSA

Based on responses to 68,000 surveys, the report examined the use of psychotherapeutic drugs, including pain relievers (like Vicodin, OxyContin, or Percocet), tranquilizers (Xanax, Soma), stimulants (Adderall, Ritalin), and sedatives (Ambien, Lunesta).

Prescription painkillers, which fuel the ongoing opioid epidemic, appeared in particularly high numbers. About 5 percent of those older than 11 had misused the medication—meaning they took a medication that wasn’t theirs or used a prescription for the wrong purpose. Most of them got the drugs from a friend or relative. 

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, SAMHSA

The high numbers are especially concerning because occasional misuse can give way to substance abuse disorders. About 2.7 million people, or 1 percent of the adult population, have a prescription drug use disorder. More than three-quarters of them are addicted to painkillers, as the chart below shows.

National Survey on Drug Use and Health, SAMHSA

For Kim Johnson, the director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, the major takeaway was the need for more addiction treatment options. “Despite everything that we have been doing, most people that need treatment still don’t get it,” she says. “Every time someone dies, I wonder: Did they try to get treatment and not find it?”

The Obama administration called for more than $1 billion to expand prescription painkiller and heroin addiction treatment services in fiscal year 2017; Congress has not yet decided on the budget.

HERE ARE THE FACTS:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Our fall fundraising drive is off to a rough start, and we very much need to raise $250,000 in the next couple of weeks. If you value the journalism you get from Mother Jones, please help us do it with a donation today.

As we wrote over the summer, traffic has been down at Mother Jones and a lot of sites with many people thinking news is less important now that Donald Trump is no longer president. But if you're reading this, you're not one of those people, and we're hoping we can rally support from folks like you who really get why our reporting matters right now. And that's how it's always worked: For 45 years now, a relatively small group of readers (compared to everyone we reach) who pitch in from time to time has allowed Mother Jones to do the type of journalism the moment demands and keep it free for everyone else.

Please pitch in with a donation during our fall fundraising drive if you can. We can't afford to come up short, and there's still a long way to go by November 5.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate