Prescription Opioid Use, Misuse, and Use Disorders in U.S. Adults: 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

Ann Intern Med. 2017 Sep 5;167(5):293-301. doi: 10.7326/M17-0865. Epub 2017 Aug 1.


Background: Despite the continuing epidemic of opioid misuse, data on the prevalence of prescription opioid use, misuse, and use disorders are limited.

Objective: To estimate the prevalence of prescription opioid use, misuse, and use disorders and motivations for misuse among U.S. adults.

Design: Survey.

Setting: The 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

Participants: 72 600 eligible civilian, noninstitutionalized adults were selected for NSDUH, and 51 200 completed the survey interview.

Measurements: Prescription opioid use, misuse, and use disorders.

Results: Weighted NSDUH estimates suggested that, in 2015, 91.8 million (37.8%) U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized adults used prescription opioids; 11.5 million (4.7%) misused them; and 1.9 million (0.8%) had a use disorder. Among adults with prescription opioid use, 12.5% reported misuse; of these, 16.7% reported a prescription opioid use disorder. The most commonly reported motivation for misuse was to relieve physical pain (63.4%). Misuse and use disorders were most commonly reported in adults who were uninsured, were unemployed, had low income, or had behavioral health problems. Among adults with misuse, 59.9% reported using opioids without a prescription, and 40.8% obtained prescription opioids for free from friends or relatives for their most recent episode of misuse.

Limitation: Cross-sectional, self-reported data.

Conclusion: More than one third of U.S. civilian, noninstitutionalized adults reported prescription opioid use in 2015, with substantial numbers reporting misuse and use disorders. Relief from physical pain was the most commonly reported motivation for misuse. Economic disadvantage and behavioral health problems may be associated with prescription opioid misuse. The results suggest a need to improve access to evidence-based pain management and to decrease excessive prescribing that may leave unused opioids available for potential misuse.

Primary funding source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Epidemics
  • Female
  • Health Surveys*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motivation
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Opioid-Related Disorders / psychology
  • Pain / drug therapy
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / psychology
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid