Less than two percent of patients with prescriptions for opioid pain medication become people who use opioids long-term, according to a large new study published online in the journal 'Pain.'

12 Jan 2017

Researchers at Indiana University studied a nationwide database of over 10 million patients who filed insurance claims for opioid prescriptions between 2004 and 2013. The study was designed to look at opioid use by patients with psychiatric and behavioral problems, but in the process uncovered data indicating that the overall risk of long term opioid use for six months or more was relatively rare for most patients.

“Of the 10,311,961 incident opioid recipients, only 1.7% received long-term opioids during follow-up,” wrote lead author Patrick Quinn, PhD, of Indiana University, Bloomington.

Opioid Bottles


“The probability of transitioning from first fill to long-term opioids was 1.3% by 1.5 years after the first prescription fill, 2.1% by 3 years, 3.7% by 6 years, and 5.3% by 9 years. Fewer than half of long-term recipients met a stricter long-term definition (at least 183 days supply) during follow-up. The likelihood of receiving long-term opioids by this stricter definition was 1.0% by 3 years.”

Addiction treatment specialists and public health officials have long claimed that even short-term use of opioid medication quickly raises the risk of addiction and death. 

The Indiana University researchers did find a “relatively modest” increase in long term opioid use by patients with depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions, and those taking psychoactive drugs. Rates of long-term use were 1.5 times higher for patients taking medications for attention-deficit disorder (ADHD); three times higher for those with previous substance use disorders other than opioids; and nearly nine times higher for those with previous opioid use disorders. 

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