Some Conclusions about Addiction from a Look at Some Numbers

Substance use disorders

Conclusion: Even when exposed to substances that can be used in ways that cause problems, most people don’t become addicted to them. Most people who develop addiction have problems already.

Note: For an individual, dependence, i.e. experiencing withdrawal symptoms without the substance, is not addiction, i.e. feeling compelled to persist in a behavior despite negative consequences.

Opioid use and opioid use disorder

  • 1 in 100 Americans, 12 and older, met the diagnostic criteria for opioid use disorder in 2015 (0.2 percent for heroin use disorder, and 0.8 for pain reliever use disorder). (Source)
  • 75% of people with prescription opioid addiction obtained the substance from a family member or a friend, not from a doctor. (Source)
  • 92% of people exposed to prescription opioids do not become addicted to them. (Source)
  • 3.6% of people who misuse prescription opioids try heroin. (Source)
  • According to a recent study, over 70% of pain patients who developed opioid use disorder had a prior history of psychoactive drug use. (Source¬†reported here)
  • Heroin addiction is more than three times as common in people making less than $20,000 per year compared to those who make $50,000 or more. (Source)
  • From a 2017 study for approximately 70% of the patients sampled: “Our results suggested that self-treatment of co-morbid psychiatric disturbances is a powerful motivating force to initiate and sustain abuse of opioids and that the initial source of drugs – a prescription or experimentation – is largely irrelevant in the progression to a SUD [substance use disorder].” (Source)
  • Since 2011, overdose deaths from prescription opioids alone are down. Deaths from synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, are up.

Conclusion: Even when opioids – created by pharmaceutical companies – are prescribed by doctors, most people don’t become addicted to them. And socioeconomics matter.

Numbers from the New River Valley of Virginia

  • 16,000+ people in the New River Valley have alcohol and other drug problems. (Source)
  • According to local sources*, in 2015, the New River Valley had 34 cases of opioid overdose. Among those were 3 cases of heroin overdose, and 5 cases of fentanyl overdose.
  • According to local sources, in 2015, 11.4% of New River Valley high school students had misused prescription drugs in the past 30 days to “get high.” The national average is 3.2%. In 2015, 5.6% New River Valley high school students had used heroin at least once in their lifetimes. The national average is 3.2%.

Yearly death total statistics that make – and don’t make – the news in the U.S.

  • Marijuana overdose deaths: 0 (Source)
  • Terrorism-related deaths, U.S. citizens, overseas and domestic: 32 (2014: Source)
  • Opioid-related deaths: 35,000 (2015: Source)
  • Gun-related deaths: 35,000 (2014: Source)
  • Alcohol-related deaths: 88,000 (2015: Source)
  • Obesity-related deaths: 300,000 (Source)
  • Tobacco-related deaths: 480,000 (Source)

Conclusion: The selection of subjects covered by the media may not be due to high death rates.

*Grateful acknowledgement is made to New River Valley Community Services for synthesizing data from multiple sources for this post.

Laurel Sindewald contributed to the research for this post.

This post was prepared as part of a packet of handouts for a talk on the opioid epidemic by Anne Giles for the Montgomery County, Virginia Democratic Party on 8/17/17.

Last updated 10/26/17

This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.

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