One in Ten Americans are Using Prescription Painkillers

Patient gets prescription
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Good news is always appreciated. But only when there is truly good news to report. Some have noticed that drug overdoses dropped slightly in the U.S. from 2017 to 2018, which is good to hear. However, drug deaths in 2018 were still exponentially higher than they were at the turn of the century, and perhaps more Americans than ever before are using painkillers, proven addictive substances.

The U.S. is far from out of the mess that is the current drug addiction epidemic which has been going on for 20 or more years. Addressing and overcoming this problem is going to take analyzing the problem honestly, and then applying prevention and treatment efforts at a level that’s commensurate with the severity of the crisis.

Be Wary of News Reports that Say the Opioid Epidemic is “On Its Way Out”

Once answered, the following three questions tell a very different story from the occasional narrative that the opioid epidemic has “peaked” and is now “on a decline.”

  • How many people are still using opiate painkillers and illicit opiates? According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, about two million Americans misuse prescription pain relievers for the first time each year. Every day in the U.S., about 5,480 people experiment with mind-altering and potentially lethal opioids for the first time. That tells us that the misuse of opioids is still extremely prevalent, even if the death toll from such drugs dropped slightly.
  • How many people are still dying from drugs? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdoses dropped by 4 percent from 2017 to 2018. Prescription opioids dropped 13.5 percent, and heroin deaths fell 4 percent, yet synthetic opioids increased by 10 percent. When all of the numbers are added up, overall drug deaths fell 4 percent, one year to the next, but opioid deaths barely fell 2 percent.
  • Did any states experience an increase in opiate deaths in 2018? Yes, while drug overdoses did drop slightly on a nationwide basis, several states actually saw more overdose deaths in 2018 than in 2017. That means the addiction epidemic is becoming more direct, zeroing in on specific areas where it wreaks untold devastation.
“No area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic—we all know a friend, family member, or loved one devastated by opioids…”
Empty prescription bottles
Photo by Kelly Colby/

While some may be celebrating the fact that drug overdose deaths fell slightly for the first time in over two decades, medical experts urge caution. According to CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D., “No area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic—we all know a friend, family member, or loved one devastated by opioids. All branches of the federal government are working together to reduce the availability of illicit drugs, prevent deaths from overdoses, treat people with substance-use disorders, and prevent people from starting using drugs in the first place.”

Understanding the Opiate Epidemic

Understanding the opioid epidemic and its many complexities begins with understanding that the opiate crisis is a combination of several addiction epidemics occurring in tandem. Opiate addiction is comprised of three major sectors: drug problems; prescription opioid pain reliever addiction, heroin addiction, and synthetic opioid addiction.

While it is true that numbers regarding prescription opioid addiction and heroin addiction (and the resulting deaths from each) are down slightly from 2017 to 2018 (the most recent years we have data for), addiction and deaths from synthetic opioids increased steadily. (Synthetic opioids refer to manmade opioid substances such as fentanyl and tramadol).

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while total overdoses did decrease by two percent from 2017 to 2018, 2018’s death toll from drugs was still four times higher than it was in 1999. Of the 67,367 people who died from drugs in 2018, about 70 percent died from opioid overdoses. Synthetic opioids were the predominant opioid-type present in the highest number of overdose deaths. Clearly, the opioid problem is far from resolved.

Understanding the opioid epidemic means understanding that this is still a severe problem. Roughly 128 people die from opioids every day. Ten percent of the U.S. population is taking some painkiller drug, putting them at risk for addiction.

Overcoming the drug problem is going to take a significant degree of effort, but it can be done.

And where do we start? By helping addicted family members and loved ones get into residential drug and alcohol treatment centers.

Drug Rehabilitation—The Answer to Opioid Addiction

Helping an addict
Photo by KatarzynaBialasiewicz/ 

Drug and alcohol addiction is not something that fades away on its own. The longer someone uses drugs, the worse their habit becomes. And the worse addiction gets, the more likely the addict is to die from his or her habit. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, drug and alcohol abuse is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

If you know someone who is using drugs and alcohol, please do your best to help them get into a residential drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. Drug rehabs offer lasting solutions to addiction, a workable approach that addresses and resolves both the underlying physical and psychological/spiritual aspects of addiction.

Narconon delivers a time-tested and proven rehabilitation program and has been doing so for over fifty years. The Narconon program is unique, with no other approach quite like it in the world. At Narconon, recovering addicts are helped off of harmful drugs like opioids in a way that is safe and comfortable. Also, Narconon helps recovering addicts address the underlying cause of their addiction so they can lead a happy, relapse-free life. Contact Narconon today to get your loved one the help that they need.




After working in addiction treatment for several years, Ren now travels the country, studying drug trends and writing about addiction in our society. Ren is focused on using his skill as an author and counselor to promote recovery and effective solutions to the drug crisis. Connect with Ren on LinkedIn.