Nonmedical use of prescription opioids: motive and ubiquity issues

J Pain. 2008 Jun;9(6):473-86. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2007.12.008. Epub 2008 Mar 14.


Two issues relating to prescription opioid nonmedical use that to our knowledge have not been comprehensively addressed in the peer-reviewed literature are discussed: Motives for nonmedical use and the extent of nonmedical use of prescription opioids in other countries. The United States' national annual survey on illicit drug use in the general population (National Survey on Drug Use and Health) asks respondents whether they have used prescription opioids for nonmedical purposes but does not assess motives for such use. By not assessing motives, nonmedical users who use only for pain relief and nonmedical users who have other motives for use are grouped together, but 2 recent epidemiological studies suggest that these 2 groups may differ in a propensity to have substance use-related problems. We suggest that the survey add a question that assesses motives for nonmedical use. Regarding whether countries besides the United States have problems associated with nonmedical use of prescription opioids, after searching for epidemiological surveys and other materials potentially relevant to this issue, we were unable to determine the extent of nonmedical use of prescription opioids in other countries or draw cross-national comparisons. We suggest that more countries include specific questions about nonmedical use of prescription opioids in their national epidemiological surveys.

Perspective: We believe that critical information surrounding the nonmedical use of prescription opioids is not being gathered. Such information would allow for a better understanding of the problem. We invite discussion and commentaries regarding the issues we raise to more effectively address this public health issue.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesics, Opioid / administration & dosage*
  • Analgesics, Opioid / adverse effects
  • Drug Prescriptions
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Motivation*
  • Narcotics / administration & dosage*
  • Narcotics / adverse effects
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology*
  • Pain / drug therapy


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Narcotics