Prescription medications are some of the most abused drugs in the nation right now. And, among prescription drugs, opioid-based painkillers, with their highly addictive nature, are abused more than any other category. How did we get to a situation where so many people have fallen prey to prescription opioid addiction and abuse? For many individuals who end up abusing these drugs, they initially began using them due to a doctor’s prescription after an illness, surgery or accident.

A Seemingly Simple & Effective Solution

When used and prescribed correctly, opioid pain medications are very effective at relieving pain from injuries or chronic conditions. This very effectiveness is part of their appeal for patients and the doctors prescribing their use. Intense pain can be a disabling condition that severely degrades a person’s quality of life, making a simple solution like prescription pain medication very attractive.

When a patient experiences extreme pain, even their physician suffers from a natural human and professional desire to relieve the suffering of another as soon as possible. In this situation, a physician is quite likely to prescribe pain medication, particularly when other methods of pain relief or more costly, not covered by insurance, or take longer to provide relief. As this dynamic plays out in doctor’s offices and hospitals across the country, the total number of pain medications prescribed keeps growing. The table below illustrates the massive numbers of opioid pain prescriptions legally dispensed by medical professionals in the United States:

bar chart showing the amount of opioid prescriptions by year
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

The Opioid Prescription Bell Curve

In addition to highlighting the huge numbers of opioids prescribed in the United States, the graph above also reveals an important trend that is currently underway: a gradual reduction in legal prescriptions of these drugs by physicians. According to this data, opioid prescriptions gradually rose from an already large total of 216 million in 2006 to a high point of 255 million in 2012, before beginning to gradually decline to 2016’s total of 215 million opioid prescriptions.

This decline is the direct result of rising concern about the current prescription drug addiction epidemic by physicians, government officials and the general public during this period of time – and the recognition that over-prescription of these medications has helped to fuel this epidemic. States and the Federal government have begun cracking down on “pill mills” that wrote thousands of prescriptions with little or no oversight and individual doctors and hospitals have begun exercising additional restraint in their prescribing patterns of these drugs due to their potential for abuse.

From Legitimate Medical Use to Prescription Opioid Addiction

photo of doctor giving a patient a bottle of opioid prescription drugs
The descent from legitimate medical usage to abuse and addiction can occur quite quickly with many prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers. In addition to their effectiveness in relieving or reducing pain, these drugs also cause a high, euphoric feeling that many people find themselves desiring. This high can become an additional reason for users to continue taking these drugs even if their initial pain has receded or disappeared.

Opioid painkillers specifically are also highly physically addictive. Even after one or two doses of an opioid drug like Oxycodone, individuals may start to develop addictive tendencies, and they will crave the drug in increasing amounts and feel terrible when they discontinue use for even short periods of time. Opioid prescription drugs also cause users to build up a tolerance, meaning you’ll need higher doses over time to get the same effect. All of these factors lead many individuals to develop a prescription drug addiction after being legitimately prescribed these drugs for treatment of pain from injury or illness.

Prescription Medications and College Substance Abuse

With the stunning rise in opiate addiction, there has also been an alarming increase in drug overdoses that result in deaths across the country. As addicts need to consume increasingly large doses of drugs to achieve the same high (and often turn to illegal and hence less reliable sources for these drugs) – the risk of potentially fatal drug overdoses becomes much more likely. The following graph illustrates the massive increase in opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to 2016:

chart showing the number of opioid overdose deaths in the U.S.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Painkillers Aren’t the Only Problem

Although prescription opioids are the largest and most deadly segment of prescription drug addiction and abuse in the United States, other prescription drugs also pose a serious threat to users’ health and lives. Many of these drugs are also highly physically addictive and possess many of the same properties that we have outlined for opioid painkillers. For example, stimulants like Adderall have become increasingly popular drugs of abuse on college campuses where students use them as “study aids” for “all-nighters” before exams or to enable them to consume even larger quantities of alcohol during binge drinking sessions at parties or other events. This combination of prescription drugs with alcohol or other substances can increase their deadliness substantially. The graph below shows how painkillers are not the only prescription drugs currently being abused in the United States:
chart showing that painkillers have the highest substance abuse

Start Your Recovery from Prescription Opioid Addiction Today

If you or a loved one is struggling with prescription opioid addiction, it can sometimes seem like a hopeless situation. But, there is hope – in the form of prescription opioid addiction treatment. By enrolling in a reputable and certified rehab program, you can free yourself from addiction and regain control of your life again. We encourage you to use the resources of the National Addiction Institute to find a treatment program that will work for you or your loved one.

Get help today by calling the National Addiction Institute right now at 1-844-889-8140.