The nation is witnessing a decrease in the opioid prescription levels but the number of morphine milligram equivalents (MME) prescribed per person in 2015 was still about three times higher than that in 1999, says a federal report released on July 6, 2017, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The report examined data from 59,000 U.S. pharmacies from 2006 through 2015 and reported a rapid increase in opioid prescriptions in 2010 at 782 MME per person, followed by a fall each year till 2015 to reach 640 MME per person. However, the number of prescriptions was still quite high when compared to the 1999 statistics, which revealed that 180 MME per person was prescribed in that year. Prescriptions are measured in MME as it uses morphine as a baseline to measure opioid prescription, which may be more powerful.
Additionally, in 2015, the highest prescribing counties prescribed six times more opioids than the lowest prescribing counties. According to the CDC, taking an opioid regularly, even at low doses, increases the risk of addiction by 15 times. Dr. Deborah Dowell, study author and chief medical officer (CMO) at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, said, “This clearly highlights the need for health care providers to consider evidence-based guidance when prescribing opioids.”
Factors leading to increased opioid prescriptions
While taking opioids for a longer duration increases one’s risk of dependence, addiction and overdose, it was noted that opioids were prescribed more often in counties with higher rates of unemployment, percentage of white residents and uninsured population; more dentists and primary care physicians; and greater prevalence of diabetes, arthritis or disability. Even though the above-mentioned factors were important in determining the opioid prescription rate in counties, as per Dr. Schuchat and other researchers involved in the study, the variation observed in prescribing opioids had more to do with lack of consensus among health care providers about appropriate opioid usage. Calling the opioid epidemic the biggest crisis the nation has witnessed in years, Dr. Schuchat has called upon the country’s heath care providers to offer safer and more effective pain management options.
The gravity of the situation can be estimated from the preliminary data compiled by The New York Times, which reveals that in 2016, drug overdose claimed more than 59,000 Americans lives. The data was compiled from hundreds of county coroners, medical examiners and state health departments. This is the highest annual jump seen in overdose deaths till date. As per the CDC, opioids including heroin and prescription opioids took more than 33,000 lives in 2015 of which nearly half involved deaths due to prescription opioids.
Efforts at limiting opioid prescriptions
The government has been continuously trying to limit the prescription of opioids. Various guidelines have been released over the years to this effect. In 2016, the CDC had published the Guideline for prescribing opioids for chronic pain providing recommendations for prescribing opioid pain medication in a primary care setting. The suggestions included using opioids only when their benefits outweighed risks, to start with the lowest effective dose, and to reexamine the benefits when considering an increase in dosage, among others.
In 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had also issued guidelines aimed at reducing the dosage of prescription opioids. Similarly, in 2009, the American Pain Society (APS) and the American Academy of Pain Medicine (AAPM) had released guidelines addressing opioid management plans, dose escalations and opioid-related policies, among others.
Furthermore, many U.S. states including Maine, Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts have adopted legislations limiting opioid prescriptions to seven days, with the strictest guidelines that limit opioid prescriptions to five days, being implemented by New Jersey.
Road to recovery
Addiction to prescription drugs can be treated. Qualifying for the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval for several years and a leader among prescription drug rehab centers, Sovereign Health of Florida provides top-notch treatment for prescription drug and opioid addiction at both its Fort Myers and Pompano Beach facilities.
Offering the highest level of care to our patients, in addition to residential treatment, Sovereign Health of Florida also provides prescription drug addiction treatment via both a partial hospitalization program (PHP) and intensive outpatient program (IOP). For more information on our holistic addiction treatment programs or to locate our state-of-the-art treatment centers near you, call our 24/7 helpline number. You can even chat online with our representatives for further assistance.