General Inquiry

Kansas Anesthesia Associates

Statistics on Prescription Opioids

The opioid crisis is an urgent public health issue with devastating impacts. Relatively recently, the healthcare community recognized the role of prescription opioids in the crisis. These medications are potent and designed to alleviate pain, and they remain an essential part of medicine. However, they can often lead individuals down a path of addiction (Dydyk et al., 2024). Statistics collected by public health agencies and researchers highlight the harmful impacts of prescription opioids and inform strategies to reduce reliance on them.

Between 1999 and 2021, approximately 645,000 people died from opioid overdoses, with many more suffering serious harm. (“Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic”, 2023). The crisis unfolded in three waves: the 1990s, 2010, and 2013, each characterized by different types of opioids. Statistics show that the first wave was dominated by prescription opioids. In the second wave, there was a large increase in overdose deaths due to heroin. The third wave, which is ongoing, has been marked by synthetic opioids such as fentanyl (“Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic”, 2023).

Combatting the crisis requires a multifaceted approach that addresses both the supply and demand of opioids. Strengthening prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) enable healthcare providers to track opioid prescriptions and identify cases of misuse or diversion. By integrating PDMP data into clinical practices, providers can make more informed decisions when prescribing opioids, mitigating the risk of overuse and addiction (Volkow & Blanco, 2021). Additionally, expanding access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT), also known as medications for opioid use disorder (MOUD), with medications like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone, is essential. MAT or MOUD has been shown to reduce opioid cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and the risk of relapse. Public education and stigma reduction efforts are also paramount in addressing the opioid crisis (Vokow & Blanco, et al., 2024).

Opioid prescriptions peaked in 2012 with 255 million prescriptions written. That year, there were over 11,000 deaths. Statistical data showed that Appalachia and the Northeast were the hardest hit regions of the US (Gardner et al., 2022). Though deaths from prescription opioids and heroin decreased post-2017, fatalities from fentanyl have increased (Gardner et al., 2022). Per the CDC, synthetic opioid overdoses rose by over 22% from 2020 to 2021, excluding methadone-related deaths (“Fentanyl”, 2023). The COVID-19 pandemic is thought to have exacerbated fentanyl overdose deaths, while heroin-related fatalities declined by 32% in 2021 (“Fentanyl”, 2023) (“Heroin”, 2023). Despite growing acknowledgement of the issue, opioids continue to be prescribed at a high volume. In 2016 over 191 million opioids were dispensed, with 11.5 million people reporting misuse of their opioid prescriptions in 2015 (“Prescription Opioids”, 2017). These statistics provide a picture of the urgent situation facing Americans and help drive efforts to rein in both prescription opioids and illicit opioids.

The opioid epidemic remains a critical public health crisis, demanding immediate action. Understanding its development and nuances is important for being able to make effective change. Implementing comprehensive strategies that prioritize responsible prescribing practices, expanding access to treatment, and promoting alternative pain management modalities is essential. By working collaboratively across healthcare, public health, and community sectors, stakeholders and communities can confront this crisis and create a safer and healthier future. 


Dydyk, Alexander M., et al. “Opioid Use Disorder.” StatPearls, StatPearls Publishing, 17 January 2024.

“Fentanyl.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Aug. 2023,

Gardner, E A et al. “The Opioid Crisis: Prevalence and Markets of Opioids.” Forensic science review vol. 34,1 (2022): 43-70.

“Heroin.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Aug. 2023,

“Prescription Opioids.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Aug. 2017,

“Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 Aug. 2023,

Volkow, Nora D, and Carlos Blanco. “The changing opioid crisis: development, challenges and opportunities.” Molecular psychiatry vol. 26,1 (2021): 218-233. doi:10.1038/s41380-020-0661-4

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