Prescription Opioid Use among Adults with Mental Health Disorders in the United States

J Am Board Fam Med. Jul-Aug 2017;30(4):407-417. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2017.04.170112.


Background: The extent to which adults with mental health disorders in the United States receive opioids has not been adequately reported.

Methods: We performed a cross-sectional study of a nationally representative sample of the noninstitutionalized U.S. adult population from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. We examined the relationship between mental health (mood and anxiety) disorders and prescription opioid use (defined as receiving at least 2 prescriptions in a calendar year).

Results: We estimate that among the 38.6 million Americans with mental health disorders, 18.7% (7.2 million of 38.6 million) use prescription opioids. Adults with mental health conditions receive 51.4% (60 million of 115 million prescriptions) of the total opioid prescriptions distributed in the United States each year. Compared with adults without mental health disorders, adults with mental health disorders were significantly more likely to use opioids (18.7% vs 5.0%; P < .001). In adjusted analyses, having a mental health disorder was associated with prescription opioid use overall (odds ratio, 2.08; 95% confidence interval, 1.83-2.35).

Conclusions: The 16% of Americans who have mental health disorders receive over half of all opioids prescribed in the United States. Improving pain management among this population is critical to reduce national dependency on opioids.

Keywords: Analgesics; Anxiety Disorders; Cross-sectional Studies; Mental Health; Opioid; Opioid-Related Disorders; Pain Management; Prescriptions; Surveys and Questionnaires.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Drug Utilization / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Prescription Drugs
  • United States / epidemiology


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Prescription Drugs