Painkiller Overdose Painkiller Overdose
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Prescription Painkiller Overdoses in the U.S.

Overdose deaths from prescription painkillers have skyrocketed in the past decade. Every year, nearly 15,000 people die from overdoses involving these drugs—more than those who die from heroin and cocaine combined.

Overdoses involving prescription painkillers—a class of drugs that includes hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone—are a public health epidemic. These drugs are widely misused and abused. One in 20 people in the United States, ages 12 and older, used prescription painkillers nonmedically (without a prescription or just for the "high" they cause) in 2010. A recent CDC analysis discusses this growing epidemic and suggested measures for prevention.

A Public Health Epidemic

The problem of prescription painkiller overdoses has reached epidemic proportions.

Consider that:

Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 15,000 people in the US in 2008. This is more than 3 times the 4,000 people killed by these drugs in 1999. In 2010, about 12 million Americans (age 12 or older) reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year. Nearly half a million emergency department visits in 2009 were due to people misusing or abusing prescription painkillers. Nonmedical use of prescription painkillers costs health insurers up to $72.5 billion annually in direct health care costs. Groups at Greatest Risk

Certain groups are more likely to abuse or overdose on prescription painkillers:

Many more men than women die of overdoses from prescription painkillers. Middle-aged adults have the highest prescription painkiller overdose rates. People in rural counties are about two times as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as people in big cities. Whites and American Indian or Alaska Natives are more likely to overdose on prescription painkillers. About 1 in 10 American Indian or Alaska Natives age 12 or older used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons in the past year, compared to 1 in 20 whites and 1 in 30 blacks. Steps for Safe Individuals can: Use prescription painkillers only as directed by a health care provider. Make sure they are the only one to use their prescription painkillers. Not selling or sharing them with others helps prevent misuse and abuse. Store prescription painkillers in a secure place and dispose of them properly.* Get help for substance abuse problems if needed (1-800-662-HELP).