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Spilling bottle of prescription pills.

Every year millions of Americans use opioids to manage pain. Doctor-prescribed opioids are appropriate in some cases, but they just mask the pain—and reliance on opioids has led to the worst drug crisis in American history.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American College of Physicians, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have issued guidelines and reports urging health care providers to pursue safe nondrug alternatives, including physical therapy, for most non–cancer-related pain treatment.

Physical therapists treat pain through movement, hands-on care, and patient education—and by increasing physical activity you can also reduce your risk of other chronic diseases.

Here are some statistics about the opioid epidemic:

1. In 2017, health care providers across the United States wrote more than 191 million prescriptions for opioid pain medication.

That's a rate of 58.7 prescriptions per 100 people.

2. Primary care clinicians write 45% of all opioid prescriptions in the United States.

This is despite guidelines to limit opioids as a first approach to managing most chronic pain.

3. More than 11 million people misused prescription opioids in 2017.

4. Every day, more than 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing prescription opioids.

5. In 2017, prescription opioids were involved in more than 35% of all opioid overdose deaths: nearly 17,000.

6. From 1999 to 2017, almost 218,000 people in the United States died from overdoses related to prescription opioids.

7. The CDC estimates the total economic burden of prescription opioid misuse in the United States is $78.5 billion a year.

This amount includes the costs of health care, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement.

If you know someone in pain, encourage them to talk to their doctor or physical therapist about safe ways to manage pain.

Physical therapists are movement experts who treat pain and improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. They help people manage or eliminate pain and reduce the need for surgery and pain medicines, such as opioids.

You can contact a physical therapist directly for an evaluation. To find a physical therapist in your area, visit Find a PT.

Find a PT Near You!


The American Physical Therapy Association is working to raise awareness about the dangers of prescription opioids and the safe alternative of physical therapy for long-term pain management. 

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US prescribing rate maps. Updated November 10, 2021. Accessed October 12, 2022.

Annals of Family Medicine. Chronic Opioid Prescribing in Primary Care: Factors and Perspectives.. May 17, 2019. Accessed August 21, 2019.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health: 2017. Accessed August 21, 2019.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Understanding the Opioid Overdose Epidemic. Updated June 1, 2022. Accessed October 12, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescribing data. Updated March 16, 2021. Accessed October 12, 2022.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prescription opioid overdose data.  Updated June 6, 2022. Accessed October 12, 2022.

Florence CS, Zhou C, Luo F, Xu L. The economic burden of prescription opioid overdose, abuse, and dependence in the United States, 2013. Med Care. 2016;54(10):901–906. Free Article.

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