A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that opioid prescription use increased significantly between 1999 and 2014, and that much of that increase stemmed from patients who’d been taking their medication for 90 days or longer.
Long-term use, which is associated with greater risk for addiction and overdose, increased threefold during the study’s time frame. In 1999 – 2000, less than half of the people who were taking prescription opioids were taking them for 90 days or more. By 2013 – 2014, more than 70 percent were taking opioid medication on a long-term basis.
The findings come as the U.S. grapples with a worsening opioid epidemic that on average is killing nearly 100 people a day, some from prescription opioids and others from illegal forms, primarily heroin. Last month, the Trump administration declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency, a step that will allow the government to dispense additional federal funds for treatment.
The study, published online today in the journal Pharmacoepidemiology and Drug Safety, draws from survey data gathered by the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, which the National Center for Health Statistics has conducted every two years since 1999-2000. Prescription opioid use, the paper found, rose from 4.1 percent of U.S. adults in 1999 – 2000 to 6.8 percent in 2013 – 2014, an increase of 60 percent. Long-term prescription opioid use, defined as 90 days or more, increased from 1.8 percent in 1999 – 2000 to 5.4 percent in 2013 – 2014.