One-Third of Americans Have Received an Opioid Prescription in the Past Two Years

Among those who received an opioid prescription, nearly one in three refilled it.

CHICAGO, Sept. 27, 2018 — Thirty-two percent of American adults have received a prescription for opioids in the past two years, according to a new AmeriSpeak® Spotlight on Health survey from NORC at the University of Chicago. Nearly one in five adults (18 percent) have received a prescription for opioids in the past year. Among adults ever receiving an opioid prescription, almost all (91 percent) report filling the script when they received it, and 29 percent refilled the prescription at least once.

Graph: Have you received an opioid prescription?

“Every opioid prescription creates a risk of addiction, and rates of prescribing remain astonishingly high,” said Michael Meit, senior fellow at NORC. “Furthermore, over a quarter of adults who received a prescription refilled it at least once, which puts them at higher risk for long-term addiction.”

This week, Congress is expected to vote on the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. The final negotiated bill will help to increase coverage and funding for opioid treatment, enable more prescribing of medication-assisted therapy, and combat the flow of illegal opioids into the country. Other state and federal policy efforts have focused on prescribing restrictions to limit the frequency and duration of opioid scripts.

Surgeons and PCPs lead opioid prescribing, but one-quarter of people receive scripts from dentists.

Surgeons are the most common source of opioid prescriptions, according to survey respondents who indicate their opioids were often prescribed to treat post-surgical pain. Primary care physicians (PCPs) were the second most common source of respondents’ opioid prescriptions. Notably, one-quarter (23 percent) of all individuals reported their most recent opioid prescription came from a dentist or oral surgeon.

Graph: Who prescribed you opioids most recently?

In April 2018, research published in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that non-opioid medications (400 mg ibuprofen and 1000 mg acetaminophen) were superior to opioids for dental pain. In March 2018, the American Dental Association announced a new policy supporting opioid prescribing limits and continuing education for its members.

“In order to reduce the risk of future opioid addictions, policymakers and prescribers should encourage appropriate prescribing that follows evidence-based guidelines,” said Caroline Pearson, senior fellow at NORC. “Ongoing efforts to shift dental practice to non-opioid pain treatments could be one important step in continuing to stem this epidemic.”

For more information on opioids, see NORC’s Appalachian Overdose Mapping Tool at

The poll included 1,059 interviews with a nationally representative sample of Americans using the AmeriSpeak® Panel. AmeriSpeak® is NORC’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. household population. During the initial recruitment phase of the panel, randomly selected U.S. households were sampled with a known, non-zero probability of selection from the NORC National Sample Frame and then contacted by U.S. mail, email, telephone, and field interviewers (face-to-face). The panel provides sample coverage of approximately 97 percent of the U.S. household population. Those excluded from the sample include people with P.O. Box only addresses, some addresses not listed in the USPS Delivery Sequence File, and some newly constructed dwellings. Interviews for this survey were conducted between September 13 and 17, 2018, with adults age 18 and older representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. A comprehensive listing of all study questions, complete with tabulations of top-level results for each question, is available on

About NORC at the University of Chicago
NORC at the University of Chicago is an objective, non-partisan research institution that delivers reliable data and rigorous analysis to guide critical programmatic, business, and policy decisions. Since 1941, NORC has conducted groundbreaking studies, created and applied innovative methods and tools, and advanced principles of scientific integrity and collaboration. Today, government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world partner with NORC to transform increasingly complex information into useful knowledge.

Contact: For more information, contact Eric Young for NORC at or (703) 217-6814 (cell).