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The Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of Long-Term Prescription Painkiller Users and Their Household Members

Introduction

Currently, the nation is struggling with an ongoing epidemic of prescription painkiller and heroin abuse and overdose, driven at least in part by a recent increase in the number of prescriptions written.1 Recognizing the role physicians play in prescribing strong painkillers, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released guidelines for prescribing these medications and note the limited evidence of the efficacy of long-term use of prescription painkillers and concerns that the risks of addiction and adverse effects may outweigh their benefits.2 However, many people rely on prescription painkillers to provide relief from acute or chronic pain. As policymakers, medical professionals, and families weigh how to handle the ongoing epidemic and in order to better understand how long-term users came to use these drugs and their experiences while taking them, The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey of adults who they themselves, or a household member, have taken strong prescription painkillers for a period of two months or more at some time in the past two years, other than to treat pain from cancer or terminal illness. A time period of two months or more was selected to focus on those whose use may be at odds with current government guidelines around prescription painkiller use. We estimate that about 7 percent of adults in the U.S. fall into this category (5 percent), or have a household member who does (2 percent). What follows is a close look at their views and experiences with these painkillers, and how they view ongoing efforts to quell the epidemic.

Executive Summary Section 1: Views and Experiences of Long-Term Users of Prescription Painkillers

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Filling the need for trusted information on national health issues, the Kaiser Family Foundation is a nonprofit organization based in Menlo Park, California.