heroin

10 facts about opioids

by Nicole Jupe on October 10, 2017

10 facts about opioids He’s down to his last Vicodin. His chronic pain pushes him to visit a second doctor to get more painkillers to ease his agony. She sympathizes with her exhausted neighbor and shares some pills to bring sleep back to her restless nights. Just as her husband suffers from a knee injury after a pickup basketball game, she remembers the leftover pills from the birth of baby number three in the back of the cabinet. These are common scenarios because when we feel pain, we want it to go away. But, the misuse of prescriptions remains at the center of our nation’s opioid epidemic.

Misuse occurs when a prescribed drug is taken in a way that is not consistent with a physician’s orders. For many, deviating from a doctor’s instructions may lead to dependence on painkillers and, in the worst case scenario, seeking out to find street drugs like heroin or fentanyl when the refills run out. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has mounting research showing that many people switch from prescription opioids to heroin because of easier access, lower prices, and greater purity.

The government and scientific communities are studying what has become our fastest-growing drug problem since the explosion of crack cocaine in the early 1980s. Their work seeks solutions to a crisis that impacts millions of lives every day. In an effort to centralize the latest news, we have compiled headlines and data about substance abuse, addiction, overdose deaths, and the health consequences of our country’s opioid epidemic.

  1. The National Safety Council (NSC) identified prescription drug misuse as a key issue because the epidemic affects 7 in 10 U.S. employers. Data from the NSC shows that 41% of employers do not currently drug test for synthetic opioids.
  2. Opioid users miss twice as many days of work as people with addictions to other drugs. An employee with a pain medicine disorder misses an average of 29 days in a year compared to 14 days missed due to alcohol abuse, according to National Public Radio (NPR).
  3. Opioid use by American men may account for a 20% decline in their participation in the U.S. labor force, according to a study by Princeton University looking at 15 years of data. The economist says “nearly half of men in their prime worker ages not in the labor force take prescription painkillers daily.”
  4. Half of Americans (52%) tested in a recent Quest Diagnostics Health Trends study misused their prescription medications. The study also found dangerous drug combinations of opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol are common.
  5. Overall positivity rates for heroin increased 146% between 2011 and 2015 in the general U.S. workforce, according to the Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™.
  6. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that opioids are shortening the life span of Americans by 2½ months.
  7. A report from Pacira Pharmaceuticals said middle-aged women (aged 40 to 59 years old) are prescribed more opioids than other groups and twice as many as men in their same age group. Mostly prescribed post-surgery, these group accounts for 3.3 billion unused pills.
  8. CVS became the first national pharmacy chain to limit opioid prescriptions to 7 days for certain conditions. The restriction also applies to patients who are new to pain therapy. Also, Cigna announced that it will not cover the opioid OxyContin for customers who are insured through a job, starting in 2018.
  9. Many lawmakers are working on legislation to help. One example is Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, who proposed a three-day limit on prescribed opioids in his state. Many states control the substances that are dispensed using an electronic database in a prescription drug monitoring program.
  10. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “sales of prescription opioids nearly quadrupled from 1999 to 2014, but there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain Americans report.”

Despite the resources available to increase awareness and help those struggling with substance use disorders, current statistics show that the crisis is far from over. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death among Americans under age 50 and researchers may have even underestimated overdose deaths this year with the loss of life trending to reach a record high.

To learn more about drug testing, visit our website or contact us online.

Quest Diagnostics Health Trends studies are published in peer-reviewed medical journals and by the company as a public service. The research features insights and analysis from a large database of laboratory data. Most recently, we released the Prescription Drug Misuse in America: Diagnostic Insights in the Growing Drug Epidemic report, which examined 3.4 million prescription medication monitoring lab tests. Analysis includes results from patients in all 50 states and the District of Columbia performed by Quest between 2011 and 2016.

The study found that, while evidence of misuse has declined in recent years, 52% of test results showed evidence of potential misuse in 2016, suggesting a majority of patients took their prescribed drugs in ways that were inconsistent with their physician’s instruction. By comparison, in 2011, 63% of test results were inconsistent with physician orders. Misuse is defined as a patient taking prescribed drugs in a way that is inconsistent with a physician’s instruction.

Some key findings from the study include:

  • More than half of patient specimens (52%) showed signs of prescription drug misuse.
  • 19% of specimens that tested positive for heroin were also positive for non-prescribed fentanyl. This combination of drugs heightens the risk of a drug overdose death.
  • Misuse rates were even higher for men and women of reproductive age (58%) than in the general study population (52%). Men were more likely to use marijuana and women were more likely to use non-prescribed benzodiazepines.
  • The most commonly detected drug used by young adults is marijuana, while older adults prefer to use benzodiazepines.
  • One in three adolescents (ages 10 – 17 years old) tested showed signs of drug misuse in 2016, a major improvement from 70% in 2011.

The study also found dangerous drug combinations are common. Among more than 33,000 specimens tested for opioids, benzodiazepines, and alcohol in 2016, more than 20% were positive for both opioids and benzodiazepines, more than 10% were positive for both opioids and alcohol, and 3% were positive for all three.

As our country faces an epidemic of prescription drug misuse, objective laboratory data can help to assist healthcare providers in assessing patients’ use of prescribed medications and other illicit drugs and educate the public about the associated health risks. We offer full line of lab-based drug testing services to help identify the appropriate and inappropriate use of prescription drugs.

See our interactive map showing drug misuse nationally and by state.

Download the complete report.

To learn more about drug testing, visit our website or contact us online.

Cincinnati: A 7-Day Look into Heroin Addiction

September 29, 2017Drug Testing

Advancements in technology allow us to experience more than just our own lives. Through the screens we hold, we passively watch, comment, and discuss as observers and bystanders. With the 24-hour news cycle and reality television, we can become desensitized and may even experience compassion fatigue, a side effect of vicariously experiencing trauma. When it […]

Read the full article →

New data shows 1 in 10 Americans use drugs

September 25, 2017Drug Testing

More states than ever before allow the recreational use of marijuana, a Schedule I Controlled Substance. Opiate abuse claims 91 lives each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If users can’t obtain painkillers, they seek potent, cheaper alternatives like fentanyl or heroin. In short, drug use in our society continues to […]

Read the full article →

Mapping Drug Use in the U.S. Workforce

June 9, 2017Drug Testing

Which drugs are popular in my county? How does workplace drug use in my state compare to the rest of the country? Has drug use in the American workforce changed significantly during the past decade? Employers, media, government, and policymakers frequently look to Quest Diagnostics for insights about their specific geographies. These inquiries are especially […]

Read the full article →

Increases in Illicit Drugs, Including Cocaine, Drive Workforce Drug Positivity to Highest Rate in 12 Years

May 16, 2017Drug Testing

The Quest Diagnostics Drug Testing Index™ (DTI) reveals insights into patterns of drug use among the American workforce. It has been published annually for more than 25 years as a public service for government, employers, policymakers, media, and the general public. This year’s report will be presented at the Drug and Alcohol Testing Industry Association […]

Read the full article →

Fentanyl Crisis Continues

April 26, 2017Drug Testing

Without the careful monitoring of a licensed physician, opioids can be deadly. The National Center on Health Statistics shows that in 2015 alone, more than 17,000 people died from opioid pain relievers, in addition to the 19,000 who died as a result of their use of heroin and other illicit opioids. In total, the percentage […]

Read the full article →

Worldwide Economic Development and Drug Use

March 2, 2017International testing

Regardless of where we live in the world, socioeconomic status can influence our life experiences. From the neighborhoods were we grow up, to the extracurricular activities we take part in, many times the circumstances into which we are born can predetermine our futures and the futures of the generations that follow. According to the American […]

Read the full article →

By the Numbers: Heroin Positivity Continues to Rise

December 15, 2016By the Numbers

Our By the Numbers blog series takes a closer look at the numbers, facts, data, and outputs that impact workplace drug testing programs. In this post, we look at the heroin positivity rate. Headlines continue to put a spotlight on startling statistics about heroin addiction and sometimes feature shocking stories to warn the public of the drug’s dangers. The […]

Read the full article →

Shortage of Drug-Free Job Applicants

December 2, 2016Drug Testing

Many businesses are finding it increasingly difficult to find applicants who can pass a pre-employment drug test. According a recent article in Briefings magazine, “the country has a growing drug problem, and it is spilling over into the workplace in ways many companies doing large-scale hiring have not anticipated.” Dr. Barry Sample, Senior Director of […]

Read the full article →