HealthDay News — The top 10% of privately insured US adults without cancer using opioids account for most opioid use, according to a research letter published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Eric C. Sun, MD, PhD, from Stanford University in California, and Anupam B. Jena, MD, PhD, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, used data from the MarketScan database on pharmacy claims for 20,499,750 privately insured individuals aged 18 to 64 years without cancer to examine the extent to which population-level opioid use among privately insured adults was concentrated among a few opioid users. The total annual morphine equivalents (MEQs) were calculated for each patient in the sample. The final sample consisted of 19,530,587 patients and 31,156,099 person-year observations.

The researchers found that in 2013, the top 5% of opioid users accounted for 59% of all MEQs and that the top 10% accounted for 76%. In 2001, the top 5% and 10% accounted for 55% and 69% of all MEQs, respectively. Compared with other users, the top 10% of opioid users were older and more likely to be male.

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“Extrapolating to the entire US population of prescription opioid users — approximately 100 million — suggests that 10 million persons account for most US opioid use,” the authors write.

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Sun EC, Jena AAB. Distribution of prescription opioid use among privately insured adults without cancer: United States, 2001–2013 [published online September 12, 2017]. Ann Intern Med. doi:10.7326/M17-1408