Prescription Drug Abuse Statistics & Facts (Shocking)

Prescription Abuse Statistics

  • Between 2015 and 2016, 45% of the American population used prescription drugs in the last 30 days.
Between 2015 and 2016, 45% of the American population used prescription drugs in the last 30 days.
  • The use of prescription drugs rises with age, with 18% of kids under 12 years old to 85% of adults that are 60 and above.
  • Use of prescriptions is highest among non-Hispanic white people, than non-Hispanic black people, and is lowest among non-HIspanic Asian and Hispanic people.
  • The most popular used prescription drugs are bronchodilators for people aged 0-11 years, stimulates for 12-19-year-olds, antidepressants for people aged 20-59, and lipid-decreasing drugs for people 60 and older.
  • In the last 10 years, the number of Americans using prescription drugs has shrunk. However, 16.3 million people continue to misuse prescriptions each year.
  • 22% of the people misusing prescriptions, or 3.7 million people, have done so only once.
  • 43% of the people misusing them take painkillers, while 32% are on tranquilizers and sedatives.
  • 43% of first-time users take painkillers, with 32% using tranquilizers and sedatives.
  • 18% of Americans or 52 million people over 12 years old have knowingly misused prescription drugs on one or more occasions.
  • Prescription drug users represent 5% of the American population over 12 years old.
  • Abuse of prescriptions has lowered to 13% in 2015, the year when 18 million people were misusing them
  • Less than one out of 10 abusers of prescription abusers misuse drugs to get high.
  • 2 million people, about 11% of the population misusing prescriptions, are addicted to them with certainty.
  • 253,100 people, or 12% of the population, know about their addictions.
  • The third most abused illegal substances are prescription drugs, with marijuana and cocaine coming in higher representing 19% and 15% of abusers.
  • The fifth most abused substance is prescription, following alcohol and tobacco products at 65% and 26% respectively.
  • Over 26% of British adults use prescription drugs.
  • Approximately 35% of Australians use prescription drugs each day, according to a 2018 report.
  • 65% of Canadians between the ages of 40 and 79 use one or more prescription medications, based on a 2019 report.
  • Throughout the world, 35 million people have disorders related to the consumption of drugs.
  • Painkillers are the most widely abused prescription drug.
  • Just one out of seven people get treatment for their drug use disorders throughout the world.
  • The worldwide number of opioid abusers is around 53 million people.
  • Over 20,000 prescription drugs have been approved for marketing.
  • Around 66% of American adults use prescription drugs, based on a 2021 report.
  • Approximately 66% of American adults have consumed a prescription drug in the last month.
  • Therapeutic areas with the most spending in the United States are antidiabetic, autoimmune, oncologic, and respiratory diseases.
  • Some of the highest classes of drugs in America are pain relievers, antihypertensives, and drugs for mental health.
  • The most abused prescription drugs in America are tranquilizers, opioids, prescription stimulants, and benzodiazepines.
  • Americans used around 30% of the worldwide supply of opioids in 2015.
Prescription Drug TypeAnnual Abusers% Among Rx Abusers% Among Americans*
Painkillers9.7 million59.5%3.43%
Opioids Alone9.3 million57.1%3.29%
Sedatives5.9 million36.2%2.08%
Stimulants4.9 million30.1%1.73%
Benzodiazepine Alone4.8 million29.4%1.70%
All Prescription Drugs16.3 million100%5.76%

How Common Is Prescription Drug Use?

  • Prescription drugs used in the United States are very common, with almost half the US population consuming a prescription drug in the last four weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic increased drug use and changed the way people receive their prescription medications. In the last year, Drug stores saw incredible rises in prescription fills for numerous types of medications, particularly medications believed by some to treat COVID-19 but also antidepressants, stimulants, and supplements.
  • In 2020, there was a 525% rise in prescription fills for hydroxychloroquine
  • There was a 70% rise for fills of Lexapro and its generic brands.
There was a 70% rise for fills of Lexapro and its generic brands.
  • In the same period, prescriptions for vitamin C increased by 66%.
  • Dexamethasone prescriptions rose 2020 by 62%.
  • There was a 39% increase in ibuprofen fills at pharmacies.
  • Zoloft and its generic equivalents saw a 31% increase in 2020.
  • Metformin HCI fills increased by 27%.
  • Trazodone HCI saw a rise in fills by 21%.
  • The drug Prozac and its generic equivalents increased in fills by 20%.
  • Adderall fills increased by 16%.

Prescription Drug Price Trends

  • The price of prescription drugs increased by 5% in 2021.
  • For developed nations, the US has the highest per-capita spending on pharmaceuticals, primarily due to more expensive prices for medications.
  • In 2019, the US spend $511 billion on medications.
  • In 2019, drugs that are brand name made up 80% of funds that were spent on prescriptions in the United States.
  • Humira, a biologic medication, has the largest sales revenue in 2018, $21 billion in total.
  • In 2019, America spent nearly $67 billion on anti-diabetic medications.
  • The people paying the most for prescription drug expenditures are those 65 and older.
  • Yearly prescription drug expenditures are 1.5 times greater for adults 89 and older than for younger adults.
  • Almost 30% of people skipped a prescription refill due to the price being too high.

Prescription Drug Abuse Costs

  • The costs of drug abuse in the United States amount to $740 billion each year due to low work productivity, healthcare, and crime.
  • The abuse of opioid drugs costs the United States around $78 billion each year.
  • Detox for outpatient care averages costs between $1,000 to $1,500.
Detox for outpatient care averages costs between $1,000 to $1,500.
  • Inpatient rehabilitation costs can average between $6,000 and $20,000 for a program lasting one month. A two or three-month rehabilitation program may cost between $12,000 and $60,000.

Psychotherapeutic Abuse

  • The kinds of prescriptions that people abuse most often are classified as psychotherapeutic. Such drugs might be prescribed to help aid in one’s emotional, physical, and mental health. Psychotherapeutic drugs are usually categorized as stimulants, painkillers, tranquilizers, and sedatives.
  • 59% of people abusing prescription drugs consume painkillers.
  • 25% of prescription drug abusers consume drugs that are listed under numerous classifications.
  • The most common reason or excuse that people give for abusing prescriptions is difficulty sleeping.
  • 75% of medication abusers get the drugs from relatives, healthcare providers, and friends.
75% of medication abusers get the drugs from relatives, healthcare providers, and friends.
  • 36% of prescription abusers acquire them from the black market.

Painkiller Abuse Statistics

Types of Psychotherapeutic Painkillers

Commonly Abused Prescription Painkillers
  • Painkillers and pain relievers are made to take away or reduce chronic pain. Opioids are classified with this term, and so are morphine, fentanyl, and oxycodone. There are 97. million individuals over 12 years old misusing painkillers, with 16% doing so on one occasion. This makes it the most abused classification of prescription drugs of them all.
  • There are 70% of prescription drug addicts hooked on painkillers.
  • 59% of prescription medication abusers have misused pain relievers, representing 3.5% of all people 13 and older.
  • 65% of painkiller abusers admit to misusing the drugs to make themselves high or to feel good, which is a 6.6% rise from the following year.
  • Another common reason for people misusing painkillers is assistance for easing emotions and feelings, which represents 10% of people. Others excuses are the need for a sleep aid at 3.7%, and experimentation for 2.2% of the population.
  • There are 1.9% of pain relief abusers who admit to an addiction.
  • Some of the side effects of painkillers are seizures, increased risk of heart disease, lowered immune system, come, difficulty breathing, and death.

Opioid Abuse Statistics

  • The most abused drug type are opioids, having overdose and addiction rates that increase every year. There are 9.3 million individuals abusing prescription opioids or 95% of the people that abuse any prescription type of painkillers.
  • About 92% of users representing 8.6 million people only misuse prescription opioids and nothing else.
  • 4% of people representing 404,000 people have also used heroin.
  • 54% of heroin users also take prescription opioids.
  • The rate of opioid abuse had decreased since 2015 by 21%.
  • Prescriptions for opioids rose by 169% between 1992 and 2010.
  • Drug stores filled a total of 165 million more prescriptions for opioids than they did for stimulants in 2010.
  • The number one biggest danger related to abusing opioids is the accidental use of fentanyl.

Stimulant Abuse Statistics

  • The most popular stimulant prescriptions are pills for ADHD, such as Ritalin and Adderall. There are 4.9 million people 13 and older misusing prescription stimulants in the last year, with 18% having done so on one occasion.
  • 51% of abusers using stimulants are 26 and older, accounting for 1.2% of the entire population that is the same age.
  • 40% of stimulant abusers are between 18 and 26 years old, accounting for 5.8% of every the same age.
  • 8% of abusers are between 12 and 17, accounting for 1.7% of all who are the same age.
  • The rate of stimulant abuse has gone down by 10% since the mid-2010s.
  • There 19% of stimulant abusers claim to use the drugs as an aid for their schoolwork.
  • 50% of drug abusers claim that stimulants help them stay alert and aid in concentration.
  • 9% of stimulant abusers claim to use the drugs for getting high, with 4% using them as a weight loss aid.
  • 5.8 of abusers use stimulants to experiment, and 1.1% use them to boost or lower the effects of another drug.
  • Less than 1% of abusers using stimulants claim that they’re addicted.
  • Some of the long-term effects of stimulants are damage to blood vessels, liver damage, and kidney damage.
  • Some of the physical side effects of stimulant overdose are the risk of heart attack, stroke, irregular heartbeat, dehydration, coma, seizures, and death.

Sedative and Tranquilizer Abuse

  • Tranquilizers and sedatives are very similar drugs that help with sleep and anxiety. Sometimes, drugs are classified by either name, yet tranquilizers are most often abused solely for getting intoxicated. About 5.9 million people 13 and older abuse tranquilizers and sedatives, with 20% doing so only once.
  • 41% of tranquilizer abusers claim to do it for tension relief.
  • 20% of abusers claim to take tranquilizers as a sleep aid, with 15% using them for experimentation purposes.
  • 67% of abusers using sedatives claim to use the drugs to help them with sleep.
  • 19% of abusers taking sedatives do it for tension relief.
  • 4.2% of sedative abusers do it to reduce their emotions, 4.1% do it to get high, and 1.8% do so for experimentation. Only 0.7% of tranquilizer abusers and 0.3% of sedative abusers admit to being addicts.

Prescription Abuse Demographics

Prescription Abuse By Age

  • Abuse of prescription drugs is highest among the population between 18 and 25 years old. Research shows that elderly people are at increased risk of getting addicted to medications due to the amount and variety of drugs they consume for their health. 14% of adults between 18 and 25 abuse prescription drugs each year.
  • Over 80% of elderly people between 57 and 85 years old use one or more prescription medications each day.
  • 69% of adults between 40 and 79 years old have used a prescription medication in the last month, with 22% using five or more medications.
  • Approximately 50% of elderly patients consume over five supplements or medications each day.
  • 4.9% of people between 12 and 17 years of age abuse prescription medications every year.
  • Vicodin, also known as hydrocodone-acetaminophen, is the primary drug abused by seniors in high school, with 8% of them admitting to abusing it.
  • Adderall is the second favorite among high school students, with 6.5% of seniors using it.
  • About 5% of all seniors claim to have misused prescriptions of some kind in the last year.
About 5% of all seniors claim to have misused prescriptions of some kind in the last year.
  • About 3.2% of children in the eighth grade 3.1% of sophomores, and 2.9% of seniors claim to have misused amphetamines in the last year.
  • Around 0.7% of eighth-graders, 0.7% of sophomores, and 1.1% of seniors have misused Ritalin in the last year.
  • About 2.3% of eighth-graders, 2.9% of sophomores, and 3.4% of seniors claim to have abused Adderall in the last year.
  • In the last 12 months, there are 2% of seniors claim to have misused sedatives or barbiturates.
  • Around 1.4% of eighth-graders, 1.5 sophomores, and 1.5% of seniors in high school claim to have misused tranquilizers within the last year.
  • Except for heroin, about 1.7% of seniors in high school claim to have abused narcotics in the last year.
  • About 0.7% of eighth-graders, 0.9% of sophomores, and 1.9% of seniors admit to using OxyContin within the last year.
  • There are 0.7% of eighth-graders, 1% of sophomores, and 1.3% of seniors claiming to use Vicodin within the last 12 months.

Prescription Abuse By Gender

  • Women prescribed medication 11% more often than men, though men misuse prescriptions 22% more often.
  • Women and men are at high risk of abusing pain relievers, with 32% more males using them than women.
  • The use of stimulants is a higher risk for women than men, especially as a study or sleep aid. Men are more at risk of abusing stimulants for experimentation or getting high.

Prescription Abuse By Race

  • White non-Hispanic and Hispanic Americans are most likely to misuse stimulants.
  • Black Americans are less likely to misuse stimulants, also coming under the usage rates of Asians by 47%.
  • Opioid abuse before high school is associated with a 33% rise in the chance of later opioid abuse following high school.

Signs Of Prescription Abuse

  • There are many characteristics and signs that one can find to help family, friends, and co-workers that are suspected of abusing prescription drugs. One of them is stealing, saving, and selling their prescriptions. The medications they keep might be for personal consumption, yet selling them allows for additional funds to purchase the medication, illegally if need be.
  • Someone taking doses that are higher than the amount recommended and for a longer period than advised is another sign of someone developing a tolerance to a drug, a common characteristic of prescription addiction.
  • Someone having mood changes, being hostile, and odd sleeping times, and making bad choices are signs of an addiction. Stimulants and sedatives have strong effects on sleep and energy levels.
  • Seeing multiple medical professionals is another sign of addiction. Prescription drug addicts may request early refills or lie to their doctors about losing their prescriptions, to the point of doctors getting suspicious enough to stop them.

Preventing Prescription Abuse

  • Due to widespread abuse of prescriptions, most likely know of at least one person abusing prescription medication within the last year. People taking them should adhere to the structure for them being used. A prescription should always be taken as ordered by a doctor.
  • Prescriptions shouldn’t be ordered online unless it’s with a well-known pharmacist. Cases of accidental overdose or oftentimes traced to websites that advertise as pharmacies filling prescriptions at a discounted price. Such drugs could be fake and have dangerous doses of substances that aren’t in the real prescriptions.
  • Prescriptions should never be sold, traded, or given away. Sharing medications is dangerous for numerous purposes, which may also lead to drug abuse in others.
Prescriptions should never be sold, traded, or given away. Sharing medications is dangerous.
  • Leftover prescriptions should be properly disposed of. Most pharmacies advise customers on safe disposal and may offer customers to turn in unused medication so they may dispose of them.
  • Treatment should be encouraged by people suspected of abusing medications without judgment. Many drug addicts will have already been shamed and judged before an intervention is done by friends and family.

Commonly Abused Prescription Painkillers

  • The most commonly abused prescription pain relievers are barbiturates, fentanyl, morphine, buprenorphine, hydrocodone, oxycodone, Codeine, Hydromorphone, oxymorphone, Demerol, and methadone.


What Is Prescription Abuse?

  • Prescription abuse is taking medications that were prescribed for another person. It can also be one taking more medications than what’s recommended by a physician.
  • Taking medications in a way that’s different than they’re supposed to be taken, like crushing, snorting, or injecting pills.
  • Consuming medication for the sole purpose of getting high or experimentation.

What Percentage Of The Population Takes Prescription Drugs?

  • Approximately 66% of the American population consumed one or more prescription drugs.
  • In 2015 and 2016, 45% of the American population tried one or more prescription medications in the last month alone. Usage of prescription medications rises with age in both women and men.
  • 18% of kids between infancy and 11 years old, about 27% of teenagers between 12 and 19, 46% of adults between 20 and 59, and 85% of adults 60 years old and above-consumed prescription medications in the last four weeks.
  • The use of prescription drugs is lower in men than women, who represent 41% and 50% of all users respectively. However, the pattern changes based on age. For children between infancy and 11 years old, prescription medication use is higher for boys, representing 22%, than girls, with 13% of them taking drugs prescribed by a doctor.
  • Adults between the ages of 20 and 59 have men using prescriptions less often than women 37% and 55% respectively. There are no major changes by sex among teens between 12 and 19 years old or elderly persons 60 and older.

How Many Prescription Drugs Are Prescribed Each Year?

  • Each year in the United State, over 4 billion prescriptions are dispensed to customers’ pharmacies and online. The amount of prescriptions filled annually is anticipated to increase in the years to come.

How Many Prescriptions Does The Average American Take?

  • Studies show that the average number of prescriptions consumed is four each day. Over 131 million people in the US take one or more prescription medications.

What Country Consumes The Most Prescription Drugs?

  • The United States uses more prescription medications than any other country in the world. In 2019, The US government reported spending $1,229 spent per-capita on prescriptions, with Canada spending $879, Switzerland spending $894, and $671 for France.


  1. Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
  2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
  3. CDC, Therapeutic Drug Use
  4. KidsCount
  5. American Addiction Centers
  6. NLM, Illicit Use of Specific Prescription Stimulants Among College Students
  7. U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), MedlinePlus: Prescription Drug Misuse