Study says too many people being prescribed opioids

Posted July 08, 2017

A new county-by-county analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that opioids were prescribed more often in rural communities, among white populations and places with fewer jobs; in counties with higher prevalence of diabetes and arthritis and more Medicaid enrollees.

The CDC report also found prescribing numbers are inconsistent in Alabama.

The amount of opioids prescribed hit its peak in 2010 and fell by 18 percent by 2015. Doctors in some counties in hard-hit parts of Appalachia, the southwest and New England prescribed the equivalent of 958 to 5,543 milligrams of morphine per capita in 2015. Daily MME was also calculated and it showed that between 2006 and 2010 it remained similar and declined by 17% between 2010 and 2015 from 58 MME to 48 MME.

The average days' supply per prescription increased 33% from 13 days in 2006 to nearly 18 days in 2015.

Painkiller prescribing varies greatly by county

The CDC said they're seeing fewer doctors prescribing opioids, but still, too many people are reported to be using and abusing strong painkillers.

There are several possible reasons why micropolitan counties might have more opioid use, including "less access to quality health care and other treatments for pain, such as physical therapy", write the CDC researchers.

"That's a lot of opioid use", she says. Doctors and pharmacists will also have to check the system every 90 days in hopes of cutting back on doctor shopping by patients trying to get multiple prescriptions.

Both Ohio and Kentucky implemented pain clinic regulations, in 2011 and 2012 respectively, which required clinicians to review prescription drug monitoring program data.

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After rising at an alarming rate for many years, the annual prescribing rate for opioids by USA doctors has begun to decline.

The CDC said too many people are still being prescribed the highly addictive drugs and for too long. Customers of Cigna Health Insurance, for instance, have consumed almost 12 percent fewer opioids in the past year, according to Will Lopez, senior medical director of Cigna Behavioral Health.

In 2016, the agency attempted to rein in over-prescription by releasing new guidelines. The US Department of Veterans Affairs and the US Department of Defense issued a similar set of guidelines in 2010 that focused on reducing prescribed dosages.

"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. This year, New Jersey became the strictest, limiting painkiller prescriptions to just five days. Prescription opiods accounted for some as did alcohol and other illegal drugs.

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STEIN: And doctors are actually writing their patients prescriptions that last longer. 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.

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.

The analysis also did not include opioid prescribing data from about 13 percent of the nation's counties because it was either incomplete or unavailable.

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