But despite this high rate of dependence, 57 percent of the long-term users in the survey said the painkillers have improved their quality of life. One in six, 16 percent, said the drugs have made it worse.
Doctors in the U.S. wrote 240 million prescriptions for opiates in 2014, enough for every adult to have his or her own bottle of pills. Stateline reported in March that Kentucky ranks fourth nationally in painkiller prescriptions, at about 130 prescriptions for every 100 people. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription opioids.
The news release says only 5 percent of U.S. adults are long-term opioid users, and most long-term users have significant health issues; seven in 10 of them report they have a debilitating disability or chronic disease. An estimated 100 million Americans live in chronic pain, says the release.
While almost all long-term users said they took the painkillers for pain, one-third said they took them “for fun or to get high;” one in five said they took them “to deal with day-to-day stress;” and one in 10 said they took them “to relax or relieve tension.” Only 3 percent of long-term users in the survey said they started taking them for recreational reasons.
Others reported misuse of their painkillers, with 20 percent of them knowing or suspecting someone was using, taking or selling their drugs; 17 percent report taking painkillers not prescribed for them; and 14 percent saying they’ve shared the drugs with a family member or friend.
The majority of long-term users in the survey said their doctor talked to them about the possibility of addiction or dependence, avoiding alcohol and other medications and other ways to manage pain., but 61 percent said there was no discussion or plan for getting off them.
In March, for the first time ever, the CDC issued guidelines for prescribing opioids. They encourage doctors to limit the length of opioid prescriptions to three to seven days, to use the lowest possible effective dosage, to monitor patients closely, and to clearly tell the the risks of addiction.
Two-thirds of the long-term users in the survey said these guidelines were concerning and will make it harder for them to obtain their medications.
“We’re not saying that no one should ever be on these pills,” CDC Director Tom Frieden told The Washington Post, but most people would be “healthier and more functional if they were off them.”