CDC finds uneven progress on reducing reliance on addictive opioids

Painkiller prescribing varies greatly by county

Opioid prescriptions have dropped despite the growing drug epidemic, CDC says

In New York, painkiller prescriptions dropped in Staten Island and the Bronx - two counties now facing a massive opioid crisis - as well as Manhattan, but remained the same in Brooklyn and Queens, according to the report.

New county-level data from the CDC highlight the extreme geographic variation in opioid prescription rates, with some areas showing average morphine equivalents per capita 10 times greater than those of less-impacted counties.

The volume of opioid painkillers prescribed per person declined again in 2015, yet remained three times higher than in 1999, according to a government report released Thursday. "After taking them for just a few days, a person becomes more likely to take them long term", Schuchat said.

For example, research shows that the combination of over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic) and an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB and generic) or naproxen (Aleve and generic) can actually work better than an opioid to relieve pain after a dental procedure. This would reduce risks of overdose of opioids as well as dependence and addictions liabilities.

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.

Overprescribing of legal opioids has fueled the addiction crisis, but some addicts usually move to cheaper or stronger drugs, particularly if they run into difficulty obtaining more prescription opioids.

The high amount of opioids prescribed is continuing to drive drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths, she said. This was an encouraging trend.

The average days' supply has increased annually for the past decade, from 13.3 in 2006 to 17.7 in 2015. Duration of opioid prescription has been linked as directly correlated with addition liability to these drugs. This is a 33% rise.

According to Schuchat, even with the reduced number of opioid prescriptions that were doled out in 2015, there are still enough of the drugs in circulation to keep every American medicated 24/7 for three weeks. And the CDC's latest data show that there are huge variations in how doctors prescribe opioids around the country.

The report noted that opioids are more heavily prescribed in small towns, in counties with larger white populations and also in places where unemployment rates and Medicaid enrollment are higher. High-dose prescribing fell 41 percent, from 11.4 per 100 people to 6.7 per 100 people, the CDC says.

Still, those factors only explain about a third of the variation among counties, Schuchat said.

The Republican healthcare bill adds $45 billion for states to spend on opioid addiction treatment, but addiction specialists told The New York Times it isn't enough to make up for the proposed cuts to Medicaid, which provides treatment for hundreds of thousands of people. Overall, the investigators found that 92% of handwritten prescriptions either failed to meet ideal practice standards, contained such errors as the absence of at least two patient identifiers or failed to comply with federal opioid prescription rules.

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