Background: Overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers (OPR), also known as opioid analgesics, have increased and now exceed deaths involving heroin and cocaine combined. This report describes the use and abuse of OPR by state.
Methods: CDC analyzed rates of fatal OPR overdoses, nonmedical use, sales, and treatment admissions.
Results: In 2008, drug overdoses in the United States caused 36,450 deaths. OPR were involved in 14,800 deaths (73.8%) of the 20,044 prescription drug overdose deaths. Death rates varied fivefold by state. States with lower death rates had lower rates of nonmedical use of OPR and OPR sales. During 1999--2008, overdose death rates, sales, and substance abuse treatment admissions related to OPR all increased substantially.
Conclusions: The epidemic of overdoses of OPR has continued to worsen. Wide variation among states in the nonmedical use of OPR and overdose rates cannot be explained by underlying demographic differences in state populations but is related to wide variations in OPR prescribing.
Implications for public health practice: Health-care providers should only use OPRs in carefully screened and monitored patients when non-OPR treatments are insufficient to manage pain. Insurers and prescription drug monitoring programs can identify and take action to reduce both inappropriate and illegal prescribing. Third-party payers can limit reimbursement in ways that reduce inappropriate prescribing, discourage efforts to obtain OPR from multiple health-care providers, and improve clinical care. Changes in state laws that focus on the prescribing practices of health-care providers might reduce prescription drug abuse and overdoses while still allowing safe and effective pain treatment.