Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States: Results From the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
This report shows that among people aged 12 and older, 6.4 million people currently (in the past month) misuse psychotherapeutic medications.
Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States:
Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health
|Background. Misuse of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs is second only to marijuana as the nation's most prevalent illicit drug use issue. In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) questionnaire was redesigned regarding the data collection regarding four categories of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs: pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives. For the first time, NSDUH respondents were asked to report about any past year use of prescription drugs, which includes the use of one's own prescription medication as directed by a doctor, as well as misuse. In addition, misuse was redefined in 2015 as use in any way not directed by a doctor, including use without a prescription of one's own; use in greater amounts, more often, or longer than told to take a drug; or use in any other way not directed by a doctor.|
Methods. This report presents 2015 NSDUH findings for people aged 12 or older regarding the past year use or misuse of prescription psychotherapeutic drugs and related topics. Estimates for selected outcomes are presented by age, gender, race, Hispanic origin, and county type. Statistically significant differences are noted within selected subgroups.
Results. In 2015, an estimated 119.0 million Americans aged 12 or older used prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year, representing 44.5 percent of the population. About 97.5 million people used pain relievers (36.4 percent), 39.3 million used tranquilizers (14.7 percent), 17.2 million used stimulants (6.4 percent), and 18.6 million used sedatives (6.9 percent). In 2015, 18.9 million people aged 12 or older (7.1 percent) misused prescription psychotherapeutic drugs in the past year. This number included 12.5 million people who misused pain relievers in the past year (4.7 percent), 6.1 million who misused tranquilizers (2.3 percent), 5.3 million who misused stimulants (2.0 percent), and 1.5 million who misused sedatives (0.6 percent). However, most people (84.1 percent) who used prescription drugs in the past year did not misuse them.
Past year users of other substances were more likely than people aged 12 or older to have misused prescription drugs. For example, 72.1 percent of past year heroin users and 5.9 percent of past year alcohol users misused pain relievers in the past year. Adults aged 18 or older who did not have mental illness in the past year were less likely than adults with mental illness to have misused prescription drugs in the past year.
In 2015, 2.1 million people aged 12 or older were recent initiates for pain reliever misuse (i.e., misused for the first time in the past year), 1.4 million were recent initiates for tranquilizer misuse, 1.3 million were recent initiates for stimulant misuse, and 425,000 were recent initiates for sedative misuse. On average, recent initiates aged 12 to 49 initiated the misuse of prescription drugs in their early to late 20s.
About 1.0 percent of people aged 12 or older (2.7 million) had a prescription drug use disorder in the past year, including 2.0 million people with a pain reliever use disorder, 688,000 with a tranquilizer use disorder, 426,000 with a stimulant use disorder, and 154,000 with a sedative use disorder. In 2015, as part of their most recent substance use treatment, 822,000 people received treatment for the misuse of pain relievers, 293,000 people received treatment for tranquilizer misuse, 139,000 received treatment for stimulant misuse, and 116,000 received treatment for sedative misuse.
Among people aged 12 or older who misused prescription pain relievers in the past year, the most commonly reported reason for their last misuse was to relieve physical pain (62.6 percent). Among past year misusers of tranquilizers, the most commonly reported reasons were to relax or relieve tension (44.9 percent) or to help with sleep (20.4 percent). Commonly reported reasons for misuse among stimulant misusers were to help be alert or stay awake, help concentrate, or help study (26.8, 26.5, and 22.5 percent, respectively). Among past year sedative misusers, the most common reason was to help with sleep (71.7 percent). Even if people misused prescription drugs for conditions for which these drugs are typically prescribed (e.g., for pain relief or to help with sleep), use without one's own prescription or use more often or at a higher dosage than prescribed nevertheless constitutes misuse.
Among people aged 12 or older who misused pain relievers in the past year, the most common source for the last pain reliever that was misused was from a friend or relative (53.7 percent), and about one third misused a prescription from one doctor. About 1 in 20 people who misused pain relievers bought the last pain reliever they misused from a drug dealer or stranger.
Conclusions. Compared with prior NSDUH data collection efforts, collecting more detailed information on the use and misuse of a comprehensive set of prescription drugs was determined to be more useful for policy and research purposes. The 2015 estimates provide a more nuanced understanding of prescription drug misuse in the United States.