Prescription opioid abuse and tampering in the United States: results of a self-report survey

Pain Med. 2014 Dec;15(12):2064-74. doi: 10.1111/pme.12475. Epub 2014 Jun 14.


Objective: The objective of this study is to estimate the prevalence and impact of prescription opioid abuse and tampering among US adults.

Methods: Participants from the US National Health and Wellness Survey were invited to complete an online survey assessing use, misuse, and abuse of prescription opioid medications in the preceding 3 months. A total of 25,864 adults were screened for self-reported opioid abuse. Prevalence was calculated using weights based on age, gender, race, and education. Respondents reporting abuse or medical use of prescription opioid medication in the prior 3 months (N = 1,242) completed a questionnaire assessing health care resource use and the Work Productivity and Activity Impairment questionnaire.

Results: The prevalence of prescription opioid abuse in the 3 months prior to the survey was estimated at 1.31% of US adults, with approximately half (0.67%) tampering during that time. Opioid abuse increased with younger age, male sex, minority race, psychiatric illness, alcoholism, cigarette smoking, being employed, and higher household income. Respondents abusing opioid medications reported greater impairment in work and nonwork activities and more health care use than nonusers. Tampering with opioid medication was associated with greater productivity loss and increased use of health care (all P < 0.05).

Conclusions: Tampering with opioid medications to get high is associated with substantial loss of productivity and health care use. Technologies that reduce users' ability to tamper may reduce the burden of opioid abuse on the health care system.

Keywords: Abuse; Opioids; Substance Abuse.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Self Report
  • United States / epidemiology