The Opioid Overdose Crisis

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Page last updated June 10, 2020 by Doug McVay, Editor/Senior Policy Analyst.

41. The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States

"Over the 15-year study period, 335,123 opioid-related deaths in the United States met our inclusion criteria, with an increase of 345% from 9489 in 2001 (33.3 deaths per million population) to 42,245 in 2016 (130.7 deaths per million population). By 2016, men accounted for 67.5% of all opioid-related deaths (n = 28,496), and the median (interquartile range) age at death was 40 (30-52) years. The proportion of deaths attributable to opioids increased over the study period, rising 292% (from 0.4% [1 in 255] to 1.5% [1 in 65]), and increased steadily over time in each age group studied (P < .001 for all age groups) (Figure). The largest absolute increase between 2001 and 2016 was observed among those aged 25 to 34 years (15.8% increase from 4.2% in 2001 to 20.0% in 2016), followed by those aged 15 to 24 years (9.4% increase from 2.9% to 12.4%). However, the largest relative increases occurred among adults aged 55 to 64 years (754% increase from 0.2% to 1.7%) and those aged 65 years and older (635% increase from 0.01% to 0.07%). Despite the fact that confirmed opioid-related deaths represent a small percentage of all deaths in these older age groups, the absolute number of deaths is moderate. In 2016, 18.4% (7762 of 42,245) of all opioid-related deaths in the United States occurred among those aged 55 years and older.

"In our analysis of the burden of early loss of life from opioid overdose, we found that opioid-related deaths were responsible for 1,681,359 YLL [Years of Life Lost] (5.2 YLL per 1000 population) in the United States in 2016 (Table); however, this varied by age and sex. In particular, when stratified by age, adults aged 25 to 34 years and those aged 35 to 44 years experienced the highest burden from opioid-related deaths (12.9 YLL per 1000 population and 9.9 YLL per 1000 population, respectively). We also found that the burden of opioid-related death was higher among men (1,125,711 YLL; 7.0 YLL per 1000 population) compared with women (555,648 YLL; 3.4 YLL per 1000 population). Importantly, among men aged 25 to 34 years, this rate increased to 18.1 YLL per 1000 population, and the total YLL in this population represented nearly one-quarter of all YLL in the United States in 2016 (411,805 of 1,681,359 [24.5%])."

Gomes T, Tadrous M, Mamdani MM, Paterson JM, Juurlink DN. The Burden of Opioid-Related Mortality in the United States. JAMA Network Open. 2018;1(2):e180217. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2018.0217

42. Number Of Painkiller Prescriptions Written Annually In The US

"Prescribers wrote 82.5 OPR [Opioid Pain Reliever] prescriptions and 37.6 benzodiazepine prescriptions per 100 persons in the United States in 2012 (Table). LA/ER [Long-Acting or Extended Release] OPR accounted for 12.5%, and high-dose OPR accounted for 5.1% of the estimated 258.9 million OPR prescriptions written nationwide. Prescribing rates varied widely by state for all drug types. For all OPR combined, the prescribing rate in Alabama was 2.7 times the rate in Hawaii."

Leonard J. Paulozzi, MD1, Karin A. Mack, PhD2, Jason M. Hockenberry, PhD, "Vital Signs: Variation Among States in Prescribing of Opioid Pain Relievers and Benzodiazepines — United States, 2012," Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 4, 2014, US Centers for Disease Control, p. 564.

43. Undertreatment of Pain More Common Among African-American Patients Than Whites

"Undertreatment of pain among African Americans has been well documented. For example, children with sickle-cell anemia (a painful disease that occurs most often among African Americans) who presented to hospital emergency departments (EDs) with pain were far less likely to have their pain assessed than were children with long-bone fractures (Zempsky et al., 2011).
"In general, moreover, a number of studies have shown that physicians tend to prescribe less analgesic medication for African Americans than for whites (Bernabei et al., 1998; Edwards et al., 2001; Green and Hart-Johnson, 2010). A study that used a pain management index to evaluate pain control found that blacks were less likely than whites to obtain prescriptions for adequate pain relief, based on reported pain severity and the strength of analgesics provided. Because such an index is a way to quantify a person’s response to pain medication alone, it is likely that people in this study did not receive other types of treatment for pain either."

Institute of Medicine, "Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education, and Research" (Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences, 2011), p. 68.

44. Definition of Diversion of Licit, Legally Prescribed Drugs

"'Drug diversion' is best defined as the diversion of licit drugs for illicit purposes. It involves the diversion of drugs from legal and medically necessary uses towards uses that are illegal and typically not medically authorized or necessary."

"Drug Diversion in the Medicaid Program: State Strategies for Reducing Prescription Drug Diversion in Medicaid," Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (Baltimore, MD: January 2012), p. 1.

45. Prevalence and Cost of Migraines

"Migraine headaches are a major public health problem affecting more than 28 million persons in this country.1 Nearly 25 percent of women and 9 percent of men experience disabling migraines.2,3 The impact of these headaches on patients and their families is tremendous, with many patients reporting frequent and significant disability.4 The economic burden of migraine headaches in the United States is also tremendous. Persons with migraines lose an average of four to six work days each year, with an annual total loss nationwide of 64 to 150 million work days. The estimated direct and indirect costs of migraine approach $17 billion.5,6 Despite the prevalence of migraines and the availability of multiple treatment options, this condition is often undiagnosed and untreated.7 About one half of patients stop seeking medical care for their migraines, in part because of dissatisfaction with the therapy they have received.4"

Aukerman, Glen; Knutson, Doug; and Miser, William F. M., "Management of the Acute Migraine Headache," American Family Physician (Shawnee Mission, KS: American Academy of Family Physicians, December 2002), Volume 66, Issue 11, p. 2123.