Hospitalizations resulting from the overuse of prescription opioid painkillers have risen more than 150 percent during the last two decades, according to a new national report.
That stunning increase was greatest among Midwesterners, women and people aged 45 or older.
Much recent media attention on drug overdoses has focused on deaths from illegal drugs, particularly heroin. But, as the findings from this new report underscore, deaths from prescription opioids — a class of drugs that includes , and morphine — is an even bigger problem. Some 60 percent of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. involve prescription drugs, and three out of four of those deaths — more than 16,600 each year — are caused by prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In 2012, the CDC declared prescription drug abuse — particularly the abuse of prescription opioids — the fastest-growing drug problem in the country.
The new report was compiled by the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), a data-collecting partnership of federal, state and industry organizations that is funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Here are the report’s key findings:
- The rate of hospitalizations resulting from prescription opioid overuse among adults aged 18 years and older rose 150 percent between 1993 and 2012, or an average of 5 percent a year.
- Since 1993, people living in the Northeast have had the highest rate of hospitalization for prescription opioid overuse. But other regions have been catching up. In fact, over the past 20 years, the Midwest — a region that includes, of course, Minnesota — has experienced the largest average annual increase in the rate of hospitalizations due to prescription painkiller overdoses: 9.1 percent. In 1993, the Northeast’s rate was about 3 to 4 times higher than that of the Midwest and other regions of the country. In 2012, it was only about 1.5 times higher.
- In 1993, men were much more likely than women to be hospitalized for a prescription opioid overdose. That’s changed. By 2012, men and women had similar rates of hospitalization for such overdoses.
- In 1993, young adults aged 25 to 44 had the highest rates of hospitalizations for overdosing on prescription painkillers. But over the past 20 years, that age group’s rate has increased 2.7 percent per year while the rate for adults aged 45 and older has climbed about 9 percent per year. By 2012, both young and older adults were equally likely to enter the hospital as a result of overdosing on a prescription painkiller.
- Here’s another finding related to age: The proportion of hospitalizations for prescription painkiller overdoses billed to Medicare has more than doubled since 1993, while the proportion billed to Medicaid has decreased. By 2012, Medicare and Medicaid were each billed for about one-third of the hospitalizations resulting from these overdoses.
You can read the study in full on the HCUP website.