Vital Stats

Facts and figures about the prescription drug and heroin epidemic.


In 2010, one in every 20 people in the United States age 12 and older – a total of 12 million people – reported using prescription painkillers non-medically.[i]

Narcotic painkillers are responsible for the overdose deaths of more than 40 people every day.[ii]

Heroin deaths rose 18.2% from 2007 to 2008, and 20.3% from 2006 to 2008.[iii]

In 2009, 180,000 people used heroin for the first time, significantly more than the average annual number from 2002 to 2008, when estimates ranged from 91,000 to 118,000 per year.[iv]

Every day, 2,500 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 abuse a prescription pain reliever for the very first time.[v]

U.S. emergency department visits for the non-medical use of opioid painkillers increased 111% in 2008 compared to 2004.[vi]

Sales of opioid painkillers to pharmacies and health care providers have increased by more than 300 percent since 1999.[vii]

Heroin addicts are getting younger: 18% of heroin users were younger than 30 years old at the time of their admission to substance abuse treatment in 1995; by 2005, this proportion had increased to 36%.[viii]

From 1999 through 2006, the number of fatal poisonings involving opioid analgesics more than tripled from 4,000 to 13,800 deaths.[ix]

Since first hitting the market in the mid-1990s, OxyContin has risen to become one of the nation’s top-selling prescription painkillers, with worldwide sales totaling $3.6 billion in 2010.[x]

The insurance industry estimates that diversion of prescription medication to addicts and abusers costs medical insurers up to $72.5 billion per year.[xi]

Overdose deaths related to prescription painkillers increased by 98% between 2002 and 2006, from 5,547 deaths to 11,001 deaths per year, respectively.[xii]

By 2009, drugs had exceeded motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death, killing at least 37,485 people.[xiii]

Drug overdose deaths increased for the 11th consecutive year in 2010, driven largely by opioid analgesics.[xiv]

There were 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide in 2010, and medicines – mostly prescription drugs – were involved in 22,134 (nearly 60 percent) of overdose deaths that year, overshadowing deaths from illicit narcotics.[xv]

√ Every nineteen minutes, on average, one person dies from prescription drug abuse.[xvi]


[i] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC Vital Signs Report, November 2011.

[ii] Id.

[iii] U.S. Department of Justice, “National Drug Threat Assessment 2010,” http://www.justice.gov/ndic/pubs38/38661/heroin.htm.

[iv] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Sept. 2010) 5.

[v] Office of National Drug Control Policy, Prescription For Danger: A Report on the Troubling Trend of Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drug Abuse Among the Nation’s Teens (Washington, D.C.: Executive Office of the President, Jan. 2008).

[vi] Steven Reinberg, “ER Visits Soaring for Prescription Painkiller Misuse,” U.S. News & World Report 17 June 2010.

[vii] CDC Vital Signs Report.

[viii] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Heroin – Changes In How It Is Used: 1995-2005 (Maryland: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, April 26, 2007).

[ix] Warner, Margaret et al., “Increase in Fatal Poisonings Involving Opioid Analgesics in the United States, 1999-2006,” NCHS Data Brief No. 22, Sept. 2009.

[x] Drug Patent Watch,  http://drugpatentwatch.com/ultimate/preview/tradename/index.php?query=OXYCONTIN.

[xi] Prescription for Peril, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, 2007, http://www.insurancefraud.org/downloads/drugDiversion.pdf.

[xii] National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2010 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, 2010).

[xiii] Scott Glover, Lisa Girion and Doug Smith, “Drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in U.S., data show,” Los Angeles Times 17 Sept. 2011.

[xiv] National Center for Health Statistics, published in the Feb. 20, 2013 volume of the Journal of the American Medical Association, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1653518#ref-jld130001-1.

[xv] Id.

[xvi] U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, Jan. 13, 2012, http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6101a3.htm?s_cid=mm6101a3_w.

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