11.8M people misused opioids in 2016: federal report

Hydrocodone opioid pills
A new federal report estimates 11.8 million people misused opioids last year. (Getty/smartstock)

A new federal report dives into trends in behavioral health issues across the country, including mental illness and the opioid crisis.

Based on a poll of more than 67,000 people age 12 and older, the report, prepared by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, estimates that 11.8 million people misused opioids in 2016. That's about 4.4% of the U.S. population over the age of 12. 

Of that number, about 11.5 million misused prescription pain relievers, and nearly 950,000 used heroin. More than 640,000 abused both heroin and prescription opioids. About 2.1 million people have an opioid abuse disorder, according to the report, but just 1 in 5 received treatment.

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In a briefing to mark the release of the report, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said that the spread of the opioid crisis is slowing, but the intensity of use is increasing as more people use dangerous drugs like fentanyl or the synthetic carfentanil. There were 52,000-odd overdose deaths related to opioids in 2015, a number that’s expected to top 60,000 for 2016, he said.

“The opioid crisis ... is taking a bigger [and] bigger toll on lives across our land,” Price said. "We are losing more lives to opioid overdose each year than the entire Vietnam War. This is not acceptable."

The number of deaths from heroin alone has increased by 630% since 2002, according to the report, skyrocketing from 2,089 that year to an estimated 13,219 last year.

HHS under the Trump administration has made opioid crisis a priority; President Donald Trump convened a commission to study and offer suggestions on solutions to the epidemic, and he recently declared it a national emergency.

In addition to the opioid crisis, the report found that the number of young adults with serious mental illnesses or suicidal thoughts is also on the rise. The rate of serious mental illness in 18 to 25-year-olds has increased from 3.8% in 2002 to 5.9% in 2016, which marks the first time that the rate for young adults has overtaken older adults.

“It’s a disturbing trend, and one we need to understand,” Price said.

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The number of young people with suicidal thoughts increased from 6.8% in 2008 to 8.8% in 2016, far outpacing the overall rate for adults (4%). Nearly 3% had made a plan and 1.8% had attempted suicide, compared with 1.1% of adults overall making a plan for a suicide attempt and 0.5% actually attempting it.

Just over half (51.5%) of young adults with serious mental illness received treatment, according to the report.