State Regulations Decrease Opiate Prescriptions Nationwide, CDC Finds

A pharmacist counts tablets of Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth Ohio

A pharmacist counts tablets of Hydrocodone at a pharmacy in Portsmouth Ohio

The United States has seen a decrease in the amount of opioids prescribed in recent years, but usage is still high, and certain counties are dispensing the powerful painkillers at much higher rates than others, according to a new government report.

The number of prescriptions for opioids by health-care providers declined between 2012 and 2015 despite the growing death rates related to the drugs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

"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.

Gary Mendell, founder of the anti-drug advocacy group Shatterproof, said in a statement that while the CDC's numbers are a good start, real accountability in measuring opioid prescriptions comes with making those numbers transparent.

At the same time, half of all USA counties saw a significant drop in opioid prescriptions, including large swaths of Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky and Florida.

The high amount of opioids prescribed is continuing to drive drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths, she said. The average length of prescriptions rose steadily from about 13 in 2006 to about 18 in 2015, the data show.

The average days' supply per prescription increased 33% from 13 days in 2006 to nearly 18 days in 2015. The amount of opioids prescribed per capita in 2015 is three times higher than 1999 found the report.

Use opioids only when benefits are likely to outweigh risks.

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The opioid crisis has affected people nationwide, with prescription opioids alone killing over 180,000 people from 2000 to 2015.

The report praised Ohio, Kentucky and Florida as states in which significant reductions have occurred, thanks to prescription monitoring and public health programs that target hot spots and promote alternative means to relieve chronic pain.

But Schuchat says these factors only explain about a third of the wide variation in opioid prescribing across the U.S. She says the results show a need for more consistency among providers. And increased another 21.5 percent the following year. When they do prescribe opioids, the CDC wants doctors to consider the risks of addiction, lower doses and shorter durations.

The CDC took a close look at where opioid prescriptions are being filled across the country.

Residents of the highest-prescribing US counties received six times more opioids per person than people in the nation's lowest-prescribing counties in 2015, the researchers said.

FMI: The new CDC report appears in the July 7 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, where it can be read in full. This year, New Jersey became the strictest, limiting painkiller prescriptions to just five days. "But our staff has done intensive analyses to see whether changing policies for prescription drugs shifts people into illicit use, and the answer is no".

STEIN: And doctors are actually writing their patients prescriptions that last longer. Opioids are derived naturally or synthetically from the opium poppy. "We also have far more research supporting the effectiveness of safer medications and even nondrug measures".

Similarly, Muskogee, Bryan, Murray and Carter counties were among the 10 counties with the highest amounts of opioids prescribed, and each of those four counties is in the top 10 for high rates of opioid overdose deaths.

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