Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics in 2018

Share This Page

One of the largest growing issues in the United States is the serious misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. In 2016, the National Study on Drug Use and Health estimated that 28.6 million Americans age 12 and up used illicit drugs in the month before the study was conducted. This is equivalent to about 1 in 10 people succumbing to substance use, which includes prescription drugs.1

When someone uses a prescription drug with the absence of a medical purpose, it typically leads to addiction and a requirement for drug treatment. 25% of those who misused prescription drugs by age 13 experienced an addiction later in their life.2

Let’s take a closer look at the current prescription drug epidemic in the United States

  • In the US alone, an estimated 54 million people over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for nonmedical purposes in their lifetime.3

  • Most abused prescription drugs fall under four drug classes, based on the number of people who misuse the drug:
    • Opioids – 3.3 million users
    • Tranquilizers – 2 million users
    • Stimulants – 1.7 million users
    • Sedatives – 0.5 million users1

  • More people reported using controlled prescription drugs than cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine combined. That puts prescription drugs second behind marijuana when it comes to illicit drug use.4

  • Between 2006 and 2011, nonmedical use of Adderall and emergency room visits involving the drug increased significantly, while treatment visits stayed the same. Adderall misuse rose 67%, and ER visits went up 156%, with family and friends serving as the primary source. Young adults (age 18-25) made up 60 percent of those using Adderall for nonmedical reasons.

  • Drug Rehab in Detroit
  • Drug Rehab in Portland OR
  • Drug Rehab in Oklahoma OK
  • Drug Rehab in Las Vegas
  • Drug Rehab in Baltimore

  • The number of adults filling a benzodiazepine prescription increased 67 percent (from 8.1 million to 13.5 million) between 1996 and 2013, while the total quantity filled more than tripled. During this same time period, the overdose death rate for benzodiazepines more than quadrupled.

  • All 50 states have prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) that actively track in-state prescriptions.4


The US makes up 5% of the world’s population and consumes approximately 80% of the world’s prescription opioid drugs. Prescription opioid drugs contribute to 40%of all US opioid overdose deaths.

  • In 2016, more than 46 people died each day from overdoses involving prescription opioids.

  • Prescription opioid overdose rates are highest among people ages 25 to 54 years.

  • Overdose rates were higher among non-Hispanic whites and American Indians or Alaska Natives.

  • Men are more likely to die from a prescription opioid overdose, but the gap between men and women is decreasing.

  • Because of its cheaper price, heroin has become the drug of choice for many who are addicted to opioid painkillers. Approximately three out of four new heroin users misused prescription opioids prior to using heroin.

  • More than half (53%) of prescription opioid users got their last painkillers from a friend or relative, with 40.4 percent paying nothing for the pills.



  1. Ahrnsbrak, Rebecca, et al. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, September 2017.
  2. Prescription Drug Abuse: Young People at Risk.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, June 7, 2012.
  3. What is the scope of prescription drug misuse?” National Institute on Drug Abuse, August 2016.
  4. 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment. US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, October 2017.