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America's Pain Killer Problem is Growing, Federal Data Shows

TIME Health
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New federal data released Wednesday reveals the state of America's pain killer use.

According to the numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the percentage of adults age 20 and over using prescription pain killers remains significantly higher than in the past, with people also taking stronger painkillers than before. Between 2011–2012, nearly 7% of adults reported using a prescription opioid analgesic in the past 30 days, compared to 5% in 2003-2006.

MORE: The Problem With Treating Pain in America

The report also shows that when comparing data from 1999–2002 with 2011–2012, the number of prescription pain killer users who took a medication stronger than morphine increased from 17.0% to 37%. Given the growth of pain killer addiction and related deaths, high usage makes many public health experts uneasy. Prior data from the CDC has also shown that nearly 50 Americans die from an overdose of prescription painkillers every day.

In 2014, the CDC found that doctors wrote 259 million prescriptions for pain killers in a single year, which is enough for every U.S. adult to have a bottle of pills.

The new data shows that women are more likely than men to be using prescription pain killers. Non-Hispanic white adults were more likely to use opioid analgesics than Hispanic adults. There was no difference between non-Hispanic white adults and non-Hispanic black adults.

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As TIME has recently reported, the growing opioid addiction problem is seeding a heroin problem. Since both drugs come from the opioid poppy, they offer similar highs, but heroin, while illegal, is cheaper and doesn't require a prescription. As states across the nation face opioid issues, the CDC will continue to recommend states step up to the task of keeping an eye on prescribing practices. Some strategies recommended by the CDC are implementing state-run databases that track prescriptions in order to determine any over-prescribing problems as well as introducing policies that discourage risky prescribing among pain clinics.

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