Prescription Opioid Misuse, Abuse, and Treatment in the United States: An Update

Am J Psychiatry. 2016 Jan;173(1):18-26. doi: 10.1176/appi.ajp.2015.15020262. Epub 2015 Sep 4.


Objective: Prescription opioid abuse and dependence have escalated rapidly in the United States over the past 20 years, leading to high rates of overdose deaths and a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking treatment for opioid dependence. The authors review the scope of the abuse and overdose epidemic, prescription practices, and the assessment, treatment, and prevention of prescription opioid misuse and dependence.

Method: The authors provide an overview of the literature from 2006 to the present, with the twin goals of highlighting advances in prevention and treatment and identifying remaining gaps in the science.

Results: A number of policy and educational initiatives at the state and federal government level have been undertaken in the past 5 years to help providers and consumers, respectively, prescribe and use opioids more responsibly. Initial reports suggest that diversion and abuse levels have begun to plateau, likely as a result of these initiatives. While there is a large body of research suggesting that opioid substitution coupled with psychosocial interventions is the best treatment option for heroin dependence, there is limited research focusing specifically on the treatment of prescription opioid dependence. In particular, the treatment of chronic pain in individuals with prescription opioid use disorders is underexplored.

Conclusions: While policy and educational initiatives appear to be effective in decreasing prescription opioid abuse and misuse, research focusing on the development and evaluation of treatments specific to prescription opioid dependence and its common comorbidities (e.g., chronic pain, depression) is critically needed.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Policy
  • Humans
  • Needs Assessment
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / diagnosis
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / etiology
  • Opioid-Related Disorders* / prevention & control
  • Prescription Drug Misuse* / adverse effects
  • Prescription Drug Misuse* / prevention & control
  • Prescription Drug Misuse* / statistics & numerical data
  • Preventive Psychiatry / methods
  • Substance Abuse Detection / methods*
  • United States