Prescription painkillers are more widely used than tobacco, new federal study finds

From The Washington Post:

More than 1 in 3 American adults — 35 percent — were given painkiller prescriptions by medical providers last year. The total rate of painkiller use is even higher — 38 percent — when you factor in the number of adults who obtained painkillers for misuse via other means, from friends or relatives, or via drug dealers.

These numbers come from a recent Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report that highlights the stunning ubiquity of prescription painkillers in modern American life. The report indicates that in 2015, more American adults used prescription painkillers than used cigarettes, smokeless tobacco or cigars — combined.

Most painkiller use isn’t misuse, which SAMHSA defines as any use of painkillers in a manner not directed by a doctor. This can include taking painkillers without a prescription for the purpose of getting high, or taking the drugs for a longer period of time or at a higher quantity than recommended by a doctor.

Indeed, part of painkillers’ prevalence owes to how effective they are, and to the difference they can make in the lives of pain sufferers. It’s hard to imagine recovering from an invasive surgery without having something to treat the residual pain, for instance. And for many people afflicted with chronic pain, proper management with prescription painkillers can mean the difference between debilitating illness and daily functioning.

But many prescription painkillers are highly habit-forming, and they can be deadly if taken at high doses, or in conjunction with other drugs such as alcohol. In 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid painkillers killed nearly 19,000 Americans. That’s greater than the total number of Americans (15,809) who were murdered that year.

Those numbers are so high partly because Americans have developed a voracious appetite for painkillers in recent years. A 2008 study estimated

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