The percentage of adults aged ≥20 years that used a prescription opioid analgesic in the past 30 days remained stable through 2011–2012, although use has doubled compared to 1988–1994, according to a new survey from the National Center for Health Statistics and the CDC.

The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a cross-sectional survey designed to monitor the health and nutritional status of the civilian non-institutionalized U.S. population, assessed participants on their use of opioid analgesics and if applicable, strength of opioid relative to morphine. The opioid strength was categorized according to the following criteria:

  • Weaker-than-morphine opioid analgesics: Includes codeine, dihydrocodeine, meperidine, pentazocine, propoxyphene, and tramadol
  • Morphine-equivalent opioid analgesics: Includes hydrocodone, morphine, and tapentadol
  • Stronger-than-morphine opioid analgesics: Includes fentanyl, hydromorphone, methadone, oxycodone, and oxymorphone
  • From 1999–2002 to 2003–2006, the percentage of adults aged ≥20 years who used a prescription opioid analgesic in the past 30 days increased from 5.0% to 6.9%; this percentage was unchanged from 2011–2012. However, use has doubled since 1988–1994 when only 3.4% reported use of opioid analgesics. The percentage of opioid analgesic users who used an opioid analgesic stronger than morphine increased from 17.0% to 37.0% in 1999–2002 and 2011–2012, respectively. The percentage who used only a weaker-than-morphine opioid declined from 42.4% in 1999–2002 to 20% in 2011–2012.

    The strongest opioid use was a morphine-equivalent strength opioid for 43% of users and approximately 11% of respondents reported using two or more opioid analgesics. The use of opioid analgesics was higher among women (7.2%) compared to men (6.3%), among older adults (8.1% for those aged 40–59; and 7.9% for those aged ≥60 years) than younger adults (4.7% for those aged 20–39).

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This article originally appeared on MPR