Opioid prescriptions drop nationwide but crisis is nowhere near the end — CDC

Lydia Fleming
July 8, 2017

But there were four outliers: Malheur, Morrow, Union and Wallowa counties, where providers handed out more opioids per capita in 2015 compared with five years prior, according to data obtained by The Oregonian/OregoLive from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, the amount of painkiller prescriptions dispensed is way too high, according to Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director. These pain killers are used in several...

For the report analysts looked at yearly prescribing practices between 2006 and 2015.

The good news is that half of the counties saw a decrease in prescriptions for powerful painkiller from 2010 to 2015. MME is the amount of opioids in milligrams, accounting for differences among various drug types and strengths.

The duration of the prescriptions also increased, from 13 days in 2006 to 18 days in 2015. However, the average days' supply per prescription increased from 13 days in 2006 to nearly 18 days in 2015.

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In addition, doctors in the USA, as of 2015, were still prescribing three times as many opioids as they were in 1999 and almost four times more than their European counterparts, according to the CDC. "So it's important to remind your healthcare providers that you don't want-or need-a lengthy opioid prescription".

There are also indications that prescriptions for opioids have been dropping since 2015. Physicians must also lead efforts to reverse the opioid epidemic by using prescription drug monitoring programs, eliminating stigma, prescribing the overdose reversal drug naloxone, and enhancing their education about safe opioid prescribing and effective pain management. Doctors and pharmacists will now be required to check the database prior to writing an opioid prescription to a patient. A previous study from the CDC found that prescriptions for eight or more days increased the likelihood of using a drug a year later to 13.5%.

The CDC says having clinicians understand the risks associated with prescribing opioids could potentially reduce long-term opioid use in the future.

Noting the growing issue of prescription opioids, CT hospital emergency departments in 2015 voluntarily agreed to adopt prescribing guidelines.

"We're in the midst of the worst drug addiction epidemic in United States history, but we are still massively overprescribing", says Andrew Kolodny, an addiction specialist at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

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Separately, some states - Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and ME - have adopted legislation that limits opioid prescriptions to seven days. The county has even taken to collecting unused prescriptions in drop-off boxes to clear medicine cabinets.

And when prescriptions end, some people move on to stronger illegal drugs. In fact, between 2014 and 2015, the percent of overdoses attributed to synthetic opioids, much of it attributed to illicit fentanyl, rose by 72% in one year.

Prescriptions are still providing high doses of opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, for periods long enough to turn patients into addicts, Schuchat noted.

SCHUCHAT: The bottom line is that too many are still getting too much for too long, and that is driving our problem with drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths in the country.

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