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About the Epidemic

The U.S. Opioid Epidemic

What the Public Needs to Know about the Epidemic
Opioid abuse is a serious public health issue. Drug overdose deaths are the leading cause of injury death in the United States.

Protect yourself and your loved ones from prescription drug abuse and overdose death.

Drug Abuse
Drug abuse is a serious public health problem that affects almost every community and family in some way. Each year, drug abuse causes millions of serious illnesses or injuries among Americans.

CDC WONDER online databases utilize a rich ad-hoc query system for the analysis of public health data. Browse or search for the most recent data on opioids and overdose.

Opioids Information Graphic

Download the Opioid Epidemic in the U.S. - PDF

Federal Response

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy and the Departments of Health and Human Services, Department of Justice, Department of Veterans Affairs, and Department of Defense meet regularly to coordinate federal efforts to address the opioid epidemic and identify opportunities for additional collaboration between government and external stakeholders.

Prescription Drug Abuse

Popping Pills: Prescription Drug Abuse in America - PDF
The misuse and abuse of prescription medications in the United States remains high, but few people are aware of just how big the problem really is. In its candy-coated hues, this infographic shares the pill popping reality of the situation, from the numbers of abusers to the places they obtain their drugs and their reasons for abusing. 

Prescription Drug Abuse
If you take a medicine in a way that is different from what the doctor prescribed, it is called prescription drug abuse. Abusing some prescription drugs—including narcotics, sedatives, tranquilizers, and stimulants—can lead to use disorder.

Research Report: Prescription Drug Abuse
The nonmedical use and abuse of prescription drugs is a serious public health problem in this country. Although most people take prescription medications responsibly, an estimated 52 million people have used prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons at least once in their lifetimes.

Abuse of Prescription Pain Medications Risks Heroin Use - PDF
In 2010, almost 1 in 20 adolescents and adults—12 million people—used prescription pain medication when it was not prescribed for them or only for the feeling it caused. While many believe these drugs are not dangerous because they can be prescribed by a doctor, abuse often leads to dependence.

When the Prescription Becomes the Problem
Help the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tell the stories of the many people whose lives have been affected by prescription drug use disorder or the death of a loved one. Encourage those in need to seek treatment for use disorder. Celebrate others who are already working to change lives, and inspire our communities to improve patient safety and the way we treat pain.

Abuse of Prescription (Rx) Drugs Affects Young Adults Most (June 2013)
Young adults (age 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription (Rx) opioid pain relievers, ADHD stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. They do it for all kinds of reasons, including to get high, or because they think Rx stimulants will help them study better. But Rx abuse is dangerous.

Prescription Drug Abuse: Young People at Risk
After marijuana, prescription and over-the-counter medications account for most of the past-year use of commonly abused drugs among high school seniors. About 1 in 9 youth or 11.4% of young people aged 12 to 25 used prescription drugs nonmedically within the past year.

Teens Mix Prescription Opioids with Other Substances
Abusing prescription opioid pain relievers is a major problem among young people, and a new study shows users are combining those drugs with other substances. The new research findings highlight the importance of addressing combined drug use in interventions to prevent substance abuse in young people.

Nearly Half of Homeless Youth Have Misused Rx Drugs
Homeless youth are more likely to use illegal drugs and alcohol than their housed peers. Better understanding how common prescription drug misuse is and what puts youth at risk can help programs improve their intake process and tailor services to address prescription drug problems.

Prescription Drug Overdose

Prescription Drug Overdose
The United States is in the midst of a prescription drug overdose epidemic. Since 1999, the amount of prescription drugs prescribed and sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled, yet there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report. Overprescribing leads to more abuse and more overdose deaths.

Prescription Drug Overdoses
About 18 women die every day of a prescription drug overdose in the United States, more than 6,600 deaths in 2010. Prescription drug overdoses are an under-recognized and growing problem for women.

Prescription Drug Overdose Data
Every day in the United States, 44 people die as a result of prescription opioid overdose. Among people 25-65 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.

Prescription Drug Overdose—Data Overview
There has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report, yet the amount of prescription drugs dispensed in the United States quadrupled since 1999. Deaths from prescription drugs have also quadrupled since 1999, killing more than 16,000 people in the United States in 2013.

Drug Poisoning Deaths Involving Opioid Analgesics in the United States, 1999-2011
Poisoning is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. Drugs both illegal and prescribed are the major cause of poisoning deaths, accounting for 90% of poisoning deaths in 2011. Misuse or abuse of prescription drugs, including opioid-analgesic pain relievers, is responsible for much of the recent increase in drug-poisoning deaths.

Heroin Abuse

Today’s Heroin Epidemic
Heroin use has increased across the United States among men and women, most age groups, and all income levels. As heroin use has increased, so have heroin-related overdose deaths. States play a central role in prevention, treatment, and recovery efforts for this growing epidemic.

Opioid Prescribing Practices

Prescribing Data
While prescription opioids play an important role in managing some types of pain, some health care providers are overprescribing these drugs. Long-term use of opioids for chronic pain can be associated with abuse and overdose.

Analysis of Opioid Prescription Practices Finds Areas of Concern
An analysis of national prescribing patterns shows that more than half of patients who received an opioid prescription in 2009 had filled another opioid prescription within the previous 30 days. Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) will publish results of this analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Federal Response to the Epidemic

Opioid Crisis

All Scientific Hands on Deck to End the Opioid Crisis

Timeline of Selected FDA Activities and Significant Events Addressing Opioid Misuse and Abuse
This timeline provides chronological information about FDA activities and significant events related to opioids, including abuse and misuse. Included is a summary timeline of key events, followed by tabbed years that provide selected additional actions and more detail about the items listed in the summary.

Medical Product Safety
Increasing the safe and effective treatment of pain is part of an objective in the federal government prevention initiative called "Healthy People 2020."

HHS Releases Guidance for Syringe Services Programs
This March 29, 2016 blog post on AIDS.gov covers the new guidance to support implementation of a change in law that makes it possible for grantees to use federal funds to support operational components of Syringe Service Programs (SSPs).

HHS Implementation Guidance to Support Certain Components of Syringe Services Programs, 2016 - PDF
HHS released new guidance to support implementation of a change in law that makes it possible for grantees to use federal funds to support operational components of Syringe Service Programs (SSPs). The guidance allows state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments to request permission to use federal funds to support SSPs.

Federal Plans to Combat Opioid Abuse

FDA Commissioner Asks Staff for ‘More Forceful Steps’ to Stem the Opioid Crisis
The FDA Commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, outlines steps to reduce the scope of the epidemic of opioid addiction.

FDA announces enhanced warnings for immediate-release opioid pain medications related to risks of misuse, abuse, addiction, overdose and death
FDA requires changes in the labeling of immediate-release (IR) opioid pain medications, including a new boxed warning about the serious risks of addiction, overdose, and death.

FDA takes important step to increase the development of, and access to, abuse-deterrent opioids
FDA issued a draft guidance to support industry in their development of generic versions of approved opioids with abuse-deterrent formulations (ADF).

Opioids Medications
FDA maintains information on all news and actions related to opioids medications on this page.

Attacking the Opioid Crisis Head On with Health IT
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) provides information on how health IT solutions are being used to address the opioid crisis. Find links to a variety of health IT solutions that address prescription drug misuse, abuse, and diversion, as well as information on national efforts to promote PDMP-Health IT integration, electronic prescribing of controlled substances and clinical decision support tools.

Re-Scheduling Prescription Hydrocodone Combination Drug Products: An Important Step Toward Controlling Misuse and Abuse
Hydrocodone is the most prescribed opioid in the United States. Under a final rule issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), hydrocodone combination products are now in a more restrictive category of controlled substances, along with other opioid drugs for pain like morphine and oxycodone.

Medicaid Coverage and Financing of Medications to Treat Alcohol and Opioid Use Disorders
Read information about Medicaid coverage of medication-assisted treatment, treatment effectiveness, and cost effectiveness. Also learn about innovative approaches in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland.

Pilot Launched for Opioid Treatment Program Service Continuity
To improve access and help ensure continuity of care for patients in Opioid Treatment Programs (OTPs), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA) developed the Service Continuity Pilot (SCP) project as a component of SAMHSA's Health Information Technology strategic initiative. This pilot project promotes patient service continuity by allowing patient dosing information to be exchanged between OTPs through health information exchanges.

Fact Sheet – FDA Opioids Action Plan
In response to the opioid epidemic, FDA has developed a comprehensive action plan to take concrete steps toward reducing the impact of opioid abuse on American families and communities. As part of this plan, the agency is committing to work more closely with its advisory committees before making critical product and labeling decisions; enhancing safety labeling; requiring new data; and seeking to improve treatment of both addiction and pain.

State Policies & Resources

What States Need to Know About the Epidemic
From 1999 to 2013, the amount opioids prescribed and sold in the United States has nearly quadrupled, and overdose deaths have quadrupled in lock-step. There is wide variation in opioid prescribing between states, and it cannot be explained by state differences in health issues that cause people pain. 

State Policies
States have broad authority to regulate the prescribing and dispensing of prescription drugs. The CDC provides data to equip and inform states about putting into practice strategies that help prevent high-risk prescribing.

Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention for States
Prescription Drug Overdose: Prevention for States provides state health departments with resources and support needed to advance interventions for preventing prescription drug overdoses. The CDC selected 16 states that will execute and evaluate prevention strategies to improve safe prescribing practices and prevent prescription drug overuse, misuse, abuse, and overdose.

Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction 2010 State Profiles
This SAMHSA publication profiles each state's certified opioid treatment programs and physicians certified to practice medication-assisted therapy for opioid use disorder.

Sample State-Level Logic Models to Reduce the Non-Medical use of Related Consequences of Opioids - PDF
SAMHSA offers states two approaches for developing an action plan to address opioid-related problems or goals. The first model focuses on the consequences of heroin consumption—specifically fatal overdose. The second addresses the consumption of opioids, with a focus on the non-medical use of prescription opioids.

Massachusetts Prevention Efforts Target Opioid Overdoses
Massachusetts’ MassCall2 initiative, funded by the state’s Strategic Prevention Framework State Infrastructure Grant, enabled 15 communities to build prevention programs to reduce opioid abuse-related problems.

Content created by Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)
Content last reviewed on October 31, 2017