Painkillers Driving Addiction, Overdose

Drug poisoning is now the No. 1 cause of unintentional death in the United States. Every day, more than 100 people die from opioid drugs –  37,814 people every year – and many of these overdoses are from prescription opioid medicine.

Many adults prescribed opioids by doctors and subsequently become addicted or move from pills to heroin. Seventy percent of people who have abused prescription painkillers reported getting them from friends or relatives. Most people don't even know that sharing opioids is a felony.

People who take opioid painkillers for too long and in doses too large are more at risk of addiction and more likely to die of drug poisoning. The numbers are staggering. A survey by the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration says there are 4.3 million nonmedical users of painkillers. Nearly 2 million people have painkiller substance use disorders.

"Painkillers don't kill pain. They kill people," says Dr. Don Teater. People think taking opioids is the best way to treat pain. But the reality is other non-addictive medicines are just as effective, including many over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

Learn How to Help Keep Loved Ones Alive

Prescribed to Death Memorial is headed to Arkansas.

National Safety Council is here to provide answers for families, resources for employers and prescribers, and information to help keep you safe at home and in your community:

Opioids: By the Numbers

Opioid Drugs include both prescription and illicit drugs. Like heroin, opioid painkillers come from the poppy plant.

  • The majority of preventable drug overdose deaths (69%) involve opioids, totaling 37,814 in 2016
  • Preventable opioid overdose deaths increased 29% in 2016, and 544% since 1999
  • The opioid category that includes morphine, oxycodone and hydrocodone was involved in 12,101 deaths in 2016
  • The drug category most frequently involved in opioid overdoses and growing at the fastest pace is synthetic opioids other than methadone (fentanyl, fentanyl analogs and tramadol)
  • Fentanyl accounted for 17,696 preventable deaths in 2016, representing a 106% increase over the 8,609 total in 2015
  • Heroin accounted for the second highest number of deaths, claiming 14,606 lives in 2016, a 19% increase over the 12,284 deaths in 2015

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Honor Loved Ones Lost to the Opioid Epidemic

We’re losing far too many people to the opioid epidemic. Honor your lost loved one by adding their name to this map.

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  • Community Action Kit

    Meet survivors and find resources to mobilize your community in this free NSC Prescription Drug Community Action Kit.

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Prescription Painkiller Abuse: The Worst Drug Epidemic



America’s most fatally abused drug is legal and sitting in the medicine cabinet. Understand the risks and how to prevent deaths and injuries associated with prescription drug abuse.


Make Your Workplace Opioid Free

Employee use of prescription painkillers threatens employees' safety and your bottom line.

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