Prevalence and Distribution of High-Risk Prescription Opioid Use in the United States, 2011–2016



Despite the efforts of many stakeholders to reduce the risk of opioid overdose, there is limited information on the prevalence of high-risk prescription opioid use in the US.


Descriptive analysis of a nationally representative 5% random sample of anonymized, longitudinal, individual-level prescription claims from IQVIA LRx between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2016 among individuals ages 18 years or older that used a retail pharmacy. High-risk opioid use was defined as ≥50 morphine milligram equivalents per day and/or having concurrent dispensing of a benzodiazepine based on overlapping days of coverage.


The prevalence of high-risk opioid use among adults in the US decreased from 12.0% in 2011 to 9.4% in 2016 (p < 0.01). Declines were most pronounced among individuals ages 18–35 years (10.9%–7.0%, 36.2% decline; p < 0.01) compared to individuals age 65 years or greater (10.5%–9.8%, 6.7% decline; p < 0.01). Declines in high-risk use prevalence were observed across 49 states, with only South Dakota experiencing an increase (+13.7% relative increase). Similar to earlier years, in 2016 50.9% of all high-risk use opioid users received all their opioid prescriptions from a single prescriber, and 71.1% used a single pharmacy to fill them.


Despite clinically significant declines in high-risk opioid use, in 2016 nearly 1 in 10 adult retail pharmacy users remained at high-risk for opioid overdose in the US. Future clinical and policy interventions should consider targeting older adults with Medicare Part-D, including those using a single pharmacy to fill their opioid prescriptions.

A press release about the study is available here. The full study is available in Pharmacoepidemiology & Drug Safety.