US Sees Decrease in Pain Reliever Misuse & Disorders from 2015-2019

According to new survey data, rates of prescription and illicit pain-relieving drug misuse and related disorders have decreased in the United States during 2015-2019.

The survey data comes from this year’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an annualized report published on September 11th by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). To collect the data, SAMHSA interviewed thousands of Americans about their drug use. Respondents were asked if they had used certain drugs, if they had used them recently, and if they had ever misused those drugs or sought help for misuse.

This year’s report saw many decreases in misuse and disorders associated with various pain-relieving drugs:

    • Opioid misuse among people aged 12 or older decreased during 2015-2019 (slide 25)

    • Opioid use disorder among people aged 12 or older decreased during 2015-2019 (slide 44)

    • Heroin use initiation among people aged 12 or older decreased during 2015-2019 (slide 30)

    • Prescription pain reliever misuse initiation among people 12 or older decreased during 2015-2019 (slide 32)

    • Pain reliever use disorder among people aged 12 or older decreased during 2015-2019 (slide 43)

The 2019 NSDUH also marked the first time that SAMHSA asked respondents about their kratom use. 825,000 respondents said they had used kratom in the past month at the time of the survey. 2019’s NSDUH data even showed kratom use was more popular during that period than heroin and inhalants:

A pie chart depicting the past month substance use among Americans aged 12 or older in 2019

More American respondents said they had used kratom in the past month than heroin or inhalants

It’s unclear if kratom use increased in 2019 compared to previous years, as SAMHSA didn’t include kratom in their 2018 substance use data.

First appearance of kratom in NSDUH for 2019

SAMHSA’s description of kratom in 2019’s NSDUH Methodological Summary and Definitions

Unfortunately, SAMHSA noted that they collected all survey data before the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the pandemic has caused enormous financial and social instability, SAMHSA doesn’t anticipate 2019’s trend of decreasing substance misuse rates will continue with 2020’s data. Instead, they “expect substantial increases in substance use disorders, mental illness, and suicidality in all age groups.”

A COVID-19 disclaimer pertaining to 2020's NSDUH survey results

A COVID-19 disclaimer pertaining to 2020’s NSDUH survey results

SAMHSA publishes and archives all survey data online. To view the 2019 NSDUH or data from previous years, visit SAMHSA’s NSDUH release page.