Overdoses Just Killed More Americans than Vietnam and Iraq Combined; Opioid Prescription Rates Finally Slowing
July 12, 2017 | Strategic Insights for Health System
While the amount of opioids prescribed in the United States has declined each year since 2011, the rate is still around three times as high as it was in 1999, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on July 7, 2017. Additionally, CDC said, in 2015 opioids were prescribed in the United States at nearly four times the rate they were prescribed in Europe. Opioid prescribing in the U.S. varied substantially from county to county, with providers in the top-prescribing counties prescribing about six times the amount of opioids, in morphine milligram equivalents per capita, as those in the lowest-prescribing counties in 2015. Demographic characteristics associated with counties that prescribed higher amounts of opioids included a large percentage of white residents, a high prevalence of diabetes and arthritis, and high rates of unemployment and Medicare enrollment. The "substantial variation" from county to county suggests inconsistent practice patterns as well as a need for better application of guidelines, CDC said. While the overall rate of prescriptions decreased, the average length of opioid prescriptions increased from 13 days in 2006 to 18 days in 2015. "The bottom line is that too many people are still getting too much for too long," Anne Schuchat, CDC's acting director, said in a July 6, 2017, article on NPR.org.