Drugs & Health Blog

What Does It Mean to “Misuse” Opioids?

The NIDA Blog Team

Opioid pain medications are now the single deadliest drug in the U.S. There were almost 19,000 deaths from prescription opioid overdoses in 2014, compared with about 4,000 deaths back in 1999. That’s an increase of 375 percent in 15 years. Fortunately, fewer than one percent of those deaths were teens.

The number of teen deaths from opioids is much lower than for adults, because fewer teens than adults are misusing prescription opioids. Last year, NIDA’s annual Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey found that teens’ use of opioids has been decreasing in recent years. That means more teens are making smart choices about misusing opioid pills. That’s the good news.

The dangers of misuse

It’s still important to know that teens are at risk for misusing opioids. Even though the percentage of deaths for teens is low compared to adults, we still lost 76 young people in 2014 from prescription opioid overdoses, which resulted from misuse of the drug.

“Misusing” opioids could mean different things, including:

  • taking an opioid that was prescribed for someone else (even if you’re taking it to reduce your own pain);
  • taking a higher dose of an opioid than you were prescribed;
  • taking an opioid (yours or someone else’s) to get high—this is often called “abuse.”

Opioids can bring relief—and risks

Some people may believe that because the opioid was prescribed by a doctor, that means it’s safe to take. But a prescription means the doctor wants you to take a certain amount of an opioid at specified time intervals (daily, twice daily, etc., depending on what the doctor says), and then to stop taking it as soon as you can get relief from over the counter medicines, like aspirin or Tylenol.

If you have leftover opioids, you should dispose of them. The Food and Drug Administration has guidelines on how to safely dispose of drugs.

Bottom line: It’s worth remembering that opioids, like any prescription drug, can be helpful if used correctly, but dangerous if they’re not taken under a doctor’s order, exactly as directed. When it comes to teens’ misuse of opioids, do your part to keep the numbers heading down!

Want to learn more? Check out the article, “Prescription Pain Medications: What You Need to Know” and blog posts, “Should Schools Be Ready for Opioid Overdoses?” and “Student Athletics: The ‘Anti-Opioid.” 

Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.

Comments

As a Patient dealing with INTRACTABLE Pain, I am FORCED to use Pain Medication. LETS TALK ABOUT PHARMACISTS PLAYING Doctor. The "war" on Drugs is BS!~CREATED BY THE DEA,FDA and NIDA. A REAL PROBLEM?-PHARMACIES FILLING CII Pain Medicine SCRIPTS for CASH-ONLY Patients because, let's FACE IT, it's ALL ABOUT MONEY.And when you PAY CASH?~You GET YOUR MEDS FILLED~Otherwise..YOU'RE SCREWED!~ EVERY-SINGLE-MONTH I am DENIED MY LEGITIMATE PainMeds RX-as Pharmacists KNOW that STOCKING CII Pain Meds is NOT WORTH THE HASSLE...UNLESS they SELL THEM FOR CASH~RESEARCH Walgreen's "TARGET-DRUG-GOOD FAITH DISPENSING "POLICY" a "Barely Legal" "policy" that RESTRICTS LEGITIMATE Patients from Filling their Pain Medicine. *NOTHING ABOUT THIS IS MORAL,ETHICAL or even LEGAL. OVERDOSE?-STOP PRESCRIBING-METHADONE+Xanax or ANY OPIATE used in an ALCOHOL-USING Patient...NOT TO MENTION RX COMBINATIONS GIVEN which INCLUDE Xanax. ADDRESS THE REAL PROBLEM!~ RESTRICT those Dr's who ROUTINELY "Mis-PrescRibe"
Its ridiculous! I see 20 something year olds constantly filling pain medication with cash at the pharmacy!! Yet im 43 with deteriorating discs in my neck an a herniated disc plus a sacralazation in my lower back which means my spine is fusing to bone..and i cant get any type of opioid just when the pain gets to bad..i work my butt off n just deal with the pain..its the ones who abuse this medication that ruin it for people who actually need it just sometimes..i even get looked at like a drug addict if the hospital gives me 15 vicodin!! Its crazy!!
I thought nicotine was the single deadliest drug in the U.S. According to the C.D.C., smoking is responsible for more than 480,000 deaths per year, including nearly 42,000 resulting from secondhand smoke exposure. In addition, those 19,000 deaths from prescription opioids cited here is misleading. More than half of those deaths involve multiple drugs (including alcohol, cocaine, stimulants, and benzodiazepines), and historically 30% of those deaths are due to methadone, which is rarely prescribed for pain. If you expect us to respect your advice, you must be honest with us - otherwise, we will have to doubt your candor, if not your competence. Thank you.
We are referring to drugs being used illicitly. We are adding a clarification to the blog post in order to make our meaning clearer. Thank you.
It is not the actual nicotine that kills. It is how the nicotine is consumed.
I've always used my debit card to pay for my meds, and I've never had an issue. Why are they giving you a hard time?
Why this is far from what they say in another article about how teens through the age of 30 are more likely to use, abuse and divert the drugs that over 450,000 obtained and died from without an RX in another article on posted here https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000949... titled- Opiate and opioid withdrawal. Interesting liars.
So why do teens misuse opioids way less.

This is probably because adults have more access to opioids, and don’t have parents standing by to protect them from harm. It could also indicate that today’s teens are better educated about the potential dangers of opioids than older generations. https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-pain-medications-opi...

Why don't you have Canadian statistics? Why does all this stuff happen in America? Then again, that means that we're off the hook, but they get Disneyland in return.

Hi Mac, we use American stats because the National Institute on Drug Abuse is an American research agency, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

this is bad for teens because the drugs could be adicting
I’m surprised that only 1 percent was kids. Why wouldn’t people get rid of them after they’re done?

Good question! Many people hang on to opioids “just in case” they need them later. People might not realize that opioids can be risky to keep in their home. For information on how to safely dispose of unused medicines, check out these NIDA pages:
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/parents/safely-dispose-your-prescription-med...
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/teen-scientist-asks-how-can-parent...
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/you-can-help-reduce-opioid-crisis

Why would doctors even prescribe people opioids if they know they are addictive.

When used as directed under the care of a doctor, opioids provide relief from pain for many people. When not used properly, however, opioids can cause problems for some people. Check out these NIDA resources to learn more about opioids and addiction:
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-pain-medications-opi...
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/addiction-disease
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/opioids-just-facts

Why do they take it knowing it is deadly? How do people become addicted to it? Why would you volunteer to harm your body

Many people who overdose on opioids do so by accident. Some people who begin using opioids under the care of a doctor become addicted, and addiction is a disease. Check out these pages to learn more about opioids and addiction:
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-pain-medications-opi...
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/addiction-disease
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/opioids-just-facts

Why would you overdose opioids? How do people become addicted to opioids? Why would you volunteerily use opioids, or overdose them?

Many people who overdose on opioids do so by accident. Some people who begin using opioids under the care of a doctor become addicted. Check out these pages to learn more about opioids and addiction:
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-pain-medications-opi...
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/addiction-disease
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/opioids-just-facts

What is another deadliest drug besides opioids? What [person] wants to have someone else’s opioids just to do drugs.

Many drugs can be deadly, and all drugs are dangerous if misused. Our Drug Facts pages and blog have lots of helpful information about the various effects of drugs. You can find our main Drug Facts page here: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts.

If opioid pain medications are such a dangerous drug, why are they still being prescribed and why aren’t there more restrictions? Are there any alternatives?

The opioid crisis is a complicated problem. To learn about what government agencies like NIDA are doing to help reduce the opioid crisis, check out this blog: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/science-vs-opioid-crisis-heal-init....

You can also check out this page that has some great information specific to your question about alternatives for pain relief under the section, “What can teens do to prevent addiction from opioid pain medicines?”
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/drug-use-and-your-mouth.

Since the rate of opioid use is rapidly increasing, is there any other drugs doctors can prescribe that still helps pain but won’t kill as many people.

Great question! There are things we can do to help save lives. You can learn about what government agencies are doing to help by reading this blog: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/science-vs-opioid-crisis-heal-init....

You can also check out this drug facts page which has some great information specific to your question under the section, “What can teens do to prevent addiction from opioid pain medicines?”
https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/drug-use-and-your-mouth.

I want to know how opioids affect the brain. I also want to know if the government is taking enough action against the opioid crisis

We’re glad you want to learn more about opioids. For information on how opioids affect the brain, check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=5&v=aF4GtW5B3uc.

To learn about what government agencies like NIDA are doing to help reduce the opioid crisis, check out this blog: https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post/science-vs-opioid-crisis-heal-init....

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