LIE: "The USA is 5% of the world's population, but we consume 80% of the world's prescription opioids and 99% of the world's hydrocodone (Vicodin)"

This is a common statement that people use to show how much our country overprescribes opioids. You'll hear it in opioid litigation, series like Dopesick and Crime of the Century, and webinars from physicians from organizations like Fed-Up Rally, PROP, and Shatterproof. It's said for shock value. Here are some bullet points when responding to this statement:

Ranking of world prescribing

  • According to this article in Pain News Network, the actual number isn't quite that high, and also varies per opioid. For instance the U.S. consumed 57.3% of the world’s morphine in 2013 and 2015 the U.S. consumed 29.3% of the world’s supply of prescription fentanyl. He also says the number is more like 4.4% of the world's population and consumes 30% of the world's opioids. 
  • A more recent statistic was posted this week by Dr. Stefan Kertesz on Twitter. He said "The US accounted for 53% of world opioid consumption according to my review of the UN International Narcotics Control Board report of 2020. I converted to MME, from Tables XII/XIII Using raw weights, the US consumes 27%. 80% has never been true." The fact that they keep pushing this 80% and 5% false narrative is not only misrepresentation, but fraud. Why do they keep repeating this false statistic? Mostly for their litigation narrative. Billions of dollars are at stake in the thousands of lawsuits happening as we speak across the country. Litigation against pharmaceutical companies, distributers, and pharmacies. In our opinion, litigation has been their end game all along.
  • Jeffrey Fudin addresses the statistic about Hydrocodone in this article called "The Hydrocode Question." He states "Many have said that the United States uses more hydrocodone than any other nation, but that is quite misleading. Most other countries do not report prescription opioid use, so to say that more opioids are prescribed by the United States than by the rest of the world is unsubstantiated. Prescribed indications are also a consideration. European countries use dihydrocodeine more commonly than they do codeine, hydrocodone, or morphine. In Canada, hydrocodone is generally used only in cough syrups or elixirs, not for pain treatment. In Australia hydrocodone has largely been replaced by morphine. Ignoring these factors skews the argument that the United States consumes the most hydrocodone worldwide and the claim that hydrocodone has been prescribed more than any other prescription drug in the United States. Unfortunately, many journalists have chosen to disregard these points in order to sell stories."
  • Most of the  world does not have access to pain care at all due to being undeveloped. So are we saying that it's a good thing that there isn't access to pain care or even health care, for that matter?  About 80% of the world has little or no available treatment for moderate to severe pain. Look at this website about this topic called "The Pain Project." This article states "imagine recovering from major surgery or suffering from advanced cancer without any painkillers. That’s the reality for patients in half the countries in the world." In a study discussing cancer pain management around the world, they state "The WHO estimates that in 80% of the world population, there is insufficient access to appropriate opioid analgesics. Lack of proper pain medication prescription to the patient affects patients and the family and friends witnessing the patient's suffering." So, like Maia Szalavitz stated in a tweet from July, "the idea that the 'ideal' level of opioid prescribing is that which denies care to the vast majority of people dying in pain is absurd. Saying we consume 80% of world's opioids w/o mentioning that most of the world dies in pain is means we think dying in pain is good." Here is another study that also discusses this point. Dr. Amarquaye (@GhanaboyPharmd on Twitter) has posted some great threads about this topic. Here is one of themThis study shows that 5 billion out of 7.7 billion people don't have access to pain med. So this statistic is meant to shock and mislead.
  • Some opioids are over the counter (OTC) in other countries.
  • Germany is the 2nd highest per capita prescribing country, and they don't have an "opioid crisis," which proves the point that our "over-prescribing" is not what's causing this overdose crisis in the USA.

This content was written by Bev Schechtman and Carrie Judy for The Doctor Patient Forum 

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