Opioid (Narcotic) Pain Medications

Opioid dependence and opioid-related deaths are growing public health problems.

23,153 Opioid Exposures*

January 1, 2018 - May 31, 2018 *These numbers reflect multiple substance exposures to opioids reported to poison centers

Prescription opioids (otherwise known as narcotics) are a subcategory of analgesics, which are pharmaceuticals that relieve pain.  According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), "[Opioids] reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect those brain areas controlling emotion, which diminishes the effects of a painful stimulus." Opioids can be dangerous if misused or abused. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) opioids caused more than 33,000 deaths in 2015 from opioids, the highest number of opioid related deaths to date.

Additionally, the CDC states nearly two million Americans were dependent on or abused prescription opioids in 2014. Each day, almost 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for using these drugs in a manner other than as directed.  In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis.  The United States is in the midst of a prescription painkiller overdose epidemic, due at least in part to the over-prescribing of opiate medications by health care practitioners.

NPDS statistical analyses indicate that all analgesic exposures including opioids and sedatives are increasing year over year. This trend is shown in Table 17b and Figure 5 in the 2016 NPDS annual report.  NPDS data mirror CDC data that demonstrates similar findings.

Please refer to AAPCC's Annual Reports of the National Poison Data System for single substance exposures for substances listed in Table 22B.  

Click here for the most recent detailed data.

Click here to access the current list of opioid derivatives included in the the opioid subcategory of the National Poison Data System (NPDS).

For more information about available opioid exposure data, please click here.   

*Disclaimer:  The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC; http://www.aapcc.org) maintains the national database of information logged by the country’s regional poison centers (PCs) serving all 50 United States, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. Case records in this database are from self-reported calls: they reflect only information provided when the public or health care professionals report an actual or potential exposure to a substance (e.g., an ingestion, inhalation, or topical exposure), or request information/educational materials. Exposures do not necessarily represent a poisoning or overdose. The AAPCC is not able to completely verify the accuracy of every report made to member centers. Additional exposures may go unreported to PCs and data referenced from the AAPCC should not be construed to represent the complete incidence of national exposures to any substance(s).


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. QuickStats: Number of Poisoning Deaths * Involving Opioid Analgesics and Other Drugs or Substances --- United States, 1999 — 2010 . MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 
  2. Frenk, S. M., Porter, K. S., & Paulozzi, L. J. (February 2015). Prescription opioid analgesic use among adults: United States, 1999-2012. CDC NCHS Data Brief, (189).

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