1.5 million adults experiencing serious mental illness misused opioids in the past year

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A new spotlight report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that in 2015 about 1.5 million adult Americans (ages 18 and older) who had experience a serious mental illness in the past year had also misused an opioid during this period. The misuse of opioids includes any use of heroin and/or the misuse of opioid-based prescription pain relievers.

A serious mental illness is defined as a diagnosable mental, behavioral or emotional disorder (excluding developmental and substance use disorders) of sufficient duration to cause serious functional impairment in an individual’s major life activities (going to work, school, interacting with family, etc.)

These figures mean that about one in eight (13 percent) of adults who misused opioids in the past year opioid also experienced a serious mental illness. Alternatively about one in seven (15.6 percent) adults experiencing a serious mental illness in the past year had also misused an opioid.

Overall, 12.7 million Americans age 12 or older misused opioids in the past year (4.7 percent of this population).

By comparison, about 4 percent of all adults had serious mental illness in the past year and 4.8 percent of all adults misused opioids in the past year.

Little is currently known about the co-occurrence of opioid misuse and serious mental illness among adults, but this spotlight from SAMHSA provides greater insight into this phenomenon.

This spotlight draws from a more comprehensive report that uses data from SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). The larger report features more information on prescription psychotherapeutic medications including tranquilizers, stimulants, sedatives and pain relievers (including those containing opioids). This report also contains more extensive information on the total number of people using these medications based on questions concerning use and misuse. It also provides more information on why people misuse these medications and how misuse may be associated with other forms of substance use and/or mental issues.

SAMHSA promotes several programs designed to address the co-occurrence of serious mental illness and substance use. For example SAMHSA’s Primary and Behavioral Health Care Integration program funds 205 grant programs that provide integrated primary and behavioral health care to people with serious mental illness including those with a co-occurring substance use disorder – some of whom have opioid misuse disorder.

SAMHSA also recently released the Decisions in Recovery: Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder (Decisions in Recovery) at http://www.samhsa.gov/brss-tacs/shared-decision-making, an online interactive aid for people who want information about the role of medications in treating opioid use disorder. The web-based tool and its accompanying handbook are designed to help people with opioid use disorders learn about treatment options so that they can work with their healthcare provider in deciding what might work best for them.

Today’s spotlight report, 1.5 Million Adults Have Serious Mental Illness and Misused Opioids in the Past Year, is based on data drawn from SAMHSA’s 2015 NSDUH report. The spotlight report is available at: http://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/report_2734/Spotlight-2734.html

For more information, contact the SAMHSA Press Office at 240-276-2130.


The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. SAMHSA's mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

Last Updated: 01/24/2017