Prescription and non-prescription analgesic use among the US adult population: results from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III)

Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Saf. 2003 Jun;12(4):315-26. doi: 10.1002/pds.755.


Purpose: To estimate prescription and non-prescription analgesic use in a nationally representative sample of US adults.

Methods: Data collected during the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994), for persons 17 years and older were analyzed (n = 20,050). During the household interview, respondents reported use, in the last month, of prescription and non-prescription analgesics.

Results: An estimated 147 million adults reported monthly analgesic use, Prescription analgesic use was 9% while non-prescription use was 76%. Females were more likely than males to use prescription (11 vs. 7%, p < 0.001) and non-prescription (81 vs. 71%, p < 0.001) analgesics. Across race-ethnicity groups, males (approximately 8%) and females (11-13%) had similar age-adjusted prescription analgesic use. Non-prescription analgesic use was higher among non-Hispanic whites than non-Hispanic blacks and Mexican-Americans for males (76 vs. 53% (p < 0.001) and 59% (p < 0.001), respectively) and females (85 vs. 68% (p < 0.001) and 71% (p < 0.001), respectively). With increasing age, prescription analgesic use increased whereas non-prescription use decreased. Approximately 30% of adults used multiple analgesics during a 1-month period. This was more common among females (35%) than males (25%, p < 0.001) and among younger (17-44 years, 33%) rather than older age groups (45+ years, 26%, p < 0.001).

Conclusions: Analgesic use among US adults is extremely high, specifically of non-prescription analgesics. Given this, health care providers and consumers should be aware of potential adverse effects and monitor use closely.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Analgesics / therapeutic use*
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal / therapeutic use*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Pharmacoepidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Sex Distribution
  • United States


  • Analgesics
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents, Non-Steroidal