NSC Poll: 99% of Doctors Prescribe Highly-addictive Opioids Longer than CDC Recommends

NSC Poll: 99% of Doctors Prescribe Highly-addictive Opioids Longer than CDC Recommends

Majority of doctors are unaware of the most effective options for treating acute pain.

​Itasca, IL – Today the National Safety Council released survey results showing 99% of doctors are prescribing highly addictive opioid medicines for longer than the three-day period recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Twenty-three percent said they prescribe at least a month's worth of opioids. Evidence shows that 30-day use causes brain changes[i].

Additionally, 74 percent of doctors incorrectly believe morphine and oxycodone, both opioids, are the most effective ways to treat pain. Research shows over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen offer the most effective relief for acute pain.[ii]

The results come on the heels of a CDC guideline for treating chronic pain, and in the midst of National Poison Prevention Week.

"Opioids do not kill pain; they kill people," said Dr. Donald Teater, medical advisor at the National Safety Council. "Doctors are well-intentioned and want to help their patients, but these findings are further proof that we need more education and training if we want to treat pain most effectively."

Drug overdoses have eclipsed car crashes as the leading cause of preventable death for American adults[iii], with prescription opioids contributing to more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined. The rise in overdoses has paralleled an increase in prescribing. Doctors prescribe enough opioids to give every American a bottle of pills.[iv]

Other key findings from the poll include:

  • 99 percent of doctors have seen a pill-seeking patient or evidence of opioid abuse, but only 38 percent usually refer those patients to treatment. Only five percent will treat them for abuse themselves.
  • 71 percent of doctors prescribe opioids for chronic back pain, and 55 percent prescribe them for dental pain – neither of which is appropriate in most cases[v]
  • 67 percent of doctors are, in part, basing their prescribing decisions on patient expectations; however, a National Safety Council poll in 2015 showed 50 percent of patients were more likely to visit their doctor again if he or she offered alternatives to opioids
  • 84 percent of doctors screen for prior opioid abuse, but only 32 percent screen for a family history of addiction – also a strong indicator of potential abuse

For more information about prescription opioid abuse, visit nsc.org/rxpainkillers.


About the National Safety Council

Founded in 1913 and chartered by Congress, the National Safety Council, nsc.org, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to save lives by preventing injuries and deaths at work, in homes and communities, and on the road through leadership, research, education and advocacy. NSC advances this mission by partnering with businesses, government agencies, elected officials and the public in areas where we can make the most impact – distracted driving, teen driving, workplace safety, prescription drug overdoses and Safe Communities.


[i] Referring to brain changes that are visible on an MRI
[ii] According to Cochrane research cited in the NSC white paper, Evidence for the efficacy of pain medications
[iii] According to Injury Facts 2016
[iv] According to CDC
[v] According to American Academy of Neurology

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