In the continuing drive for the nation to use fewer opioid painkillers, doctors are cutting back on prescriptions but efforts aren’t nearly enough, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Overall, opioid prescriptions dropped 18 percent from 2010 to 2015. But this is hardly a cause for celebration when the amount of prescriptions in 2015 was three times higher than in 1999 and four times higher than Europe’s prescription rates, fueling an opioid drug overdose epidemic in the United States.
Gateway To Drug Addiction And Overdose
Chronic pain remains one of the top medical woes in the country, with opioids frequently prescribed to manage pain.
“However, opioids should only be used when benefits are expected to outweigh risks. Ensuring that patients have access to safe, effective treatment is critical and involves improving the way opioids are prescribed,” the researchers wrote.
Both legal or prescription opioids such as hydrocodone, as well as illegal drugs such as street fentanyl and heroin, killed more than 33,000 in America in 2015, with half of the deaths attributed to prescription medications.
Almost 2 million in the United States are addicted to these prescribed opioids, with three out of four new heroin users start with prescription drugs.
"The bottom line is, we still have too many people getting too many opioid prescriptions for too many days at too high a dosage," said acting CDC Director Dr. Anne Schuchat.
While the average dose and overall rate of prescriptions were on a downward trend, the average length of prescription days climbed. The average days of supply prescribed rose from 13.3 days in 2006 to 17.7 days in 2015, or a 33 percent increase.
Across American Counties
The CDC report is the first to provide a per-county breakdown of opioid prescriptions across the country, sorting counties according to average amount of opioid prescription per person.
The measurement was based on morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) to take into account that the drugs come in various types as well as dosages.
The counties with the top 25 percent of MMEs in 2015 had patients prescribed more than six times as much prescribed pain medication as patients in the counties with the lowest 25 percent of prescriptions. These top counties were mostly rural areas where a majority of residents are white, have higher unemployment rates, and have poor health status.
Some places, however, are seeing improvements. Florida, Ohio, and Kentucky all cracked down on high-prescribing clinics and physicians from 2010 and 2012, and they saw opioid prescriptions fall in 80, 85, and 62 percent of their respective counties.
The CDC recommended states and counties to use the opioid prescribing trends to make addiction treatment more available.
In 2016, the agency attempted to rein in over-prescription by releasing new guidelines. It emphasized the role of non-opioid therapies as first-line treatment for tackling chronic pain in adults.
Since the new report covered data from 2006 to 2015, developments from these new recommendations had not been captured.