Understanding Opioid Abuse & Misuse

More than 12 million people reported using prescription pain medications nonmedically in 2010.10 That number encompasses both abuse and misuse. The abuse and misuse of prescription pain medications were responsible for more than 475,000 emergency department visits in 2009, a number that nearly doubled in just five years.10 Further, opioid overdoses in particular are increasingly due to the abuse of prescription painkillers.3

Opioid Abuse

Abuse is a nonmedical use of a drug, repeatedly, or even sporadically, for the positive psychoactive effects it produces.11 The most common form of opioid abuse is swallowing a number of intact pills or tablets to achieve a feeling of euphoria.5 While this is the most widespread form of abuse, opioid analgesics can be abused in a number of ways5:

  • Swallowed whole
  • Crushed and swallowed
  • Crushed and snorted
  • Crushed and smoked
  • Crushed, dissolved, and injected

Percent of patients being treated with chronic opioid therapy with high likelihood of abuse/addiction26

Alcohol-induced dose dumping, or the associated intake of alcoholic beverages together with oral controlled-release opioid formulations, is another form of abuse that may result in an uncontrolled and immediate drug release.12

Opioid Misuse

Misuse is using the prescription drug for a reason other than for which it was prescribed.11 The key differentiator being the drug is not being used for an intentional high, so it is labeled misuse rather than abuse. Misuse can also take many forms, for example11:

  • Using a drug for a different condition than that for which the drug is prescribed
  • Taking more drug than prescribed or at different dosing intervals
  • Using a drug not prescribed for them for other therapeutic purposes