There has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report, yet the amount of prescription painkillers dispensed in the U.S. quadrupled since 1999. Changes in how providers prescribe painkillers has helped fuel this epidemic. There is wide variation in painkiller prescribing between states which can’t be explained by differences in health issues from state to state.
Deaths from prescription painkillers have also quadrupled since 1999, killing more than 16,000 people in the U.S. in 2013. Nearly two million Americans, aged 12 or older, either abused or were dependent on opioids in 2013.
While the public health burden of this epidemic remains enormous, 2012 saw the first national drop in prescription overdose deaths since the 1990s, and essentially leveled off. This drop in deaths mirrors a similar drop in painkiller prescribing rates across the country and gives promise to making even more progress in reversing this epidemic.