Americans Are Top Opioid Users Worldwide

Hydrocodone acetaminophen tablets lying on a prescription form. Hydrocodone is a popular prescription semi-synthetic opioid that is used to treat moderate to severe pain. Hydrocodone is said to be one of the most common recreational prescription drugs in America.

Although the number of opioid prescriptions in the U.S. has decreased in recent years, Americans still use far more opioids than any other country in the world.

Recent data from the United Nations shows that Americans Americans are prescribed about six times as many opioids per capita as residents of France and Portugal, despite the fact that those two countries have better access to healthcare and, in the case of Portugal, have decriminalized use of all drugs. The largest disparity noted in the U.N. report concerns hydrocodone: Americans consume more than 99 percent of the world’s supply of this opioid.

Perhaps surprisingly, pain has little to do with this excessive opioid use. When it comes to chronic pain, the U.S. ranks just 42nd in this category among the world population of people ages 65 and older. Countries such as Italy and Australia report higher rates of chronic pain, yet they use only a fraction of the opioids we do.

However, cultural factors may play a role. Relative to Europeans, Americans have more faith that life is perfectible (e.g., all pain can be avoided). While a European may be more likely to accept aging and not being able to do what they could in their 20s, an achy American is more likely to see this as an avoidable problem that can be fixed by prescribing him opioids.