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US opioid prescriptions falling but still too high, CDC warns

The number of opioids prescribed in the United States is falling after a peak in 2010, a report[1] from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has found.

However, the amount of opioid prescribing is still extremely high with three times the rate in 2015 than that recorded in 1999.

Dr Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC

Source: CDC / Wikimedia Commons

Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said: “We still have too many people getting medicine at too high a level and for too long.”

The report found a large variation in prescribing, with six times more opioids per resident dispensed in the highest-prescribing counties than in the lowest-prescribing counties.

After the 2015 data was reported by the CDC, various guidelines on opioid prescribing have been issued in the US to try and curb excessive use of the drugs, and measures have also been taken by insurers on the number of prescriptions.

The analysis found that although the the amount of opioids prescribed overall fell 18% from 2010 to 2015, there was an increase in 23% of counties.

A steeper decline was seen with the highest doses of the drugs.

Current opioid problems in the US can be traced back to the 1990s when healthcare providers began using the drugs to treat chronic pain such as arthritis and back pain, the report said.

Over time, more opioid prescriptions were written for more days per prescription and in higher doses, putting patients at risk of addiction, overdose and death.

The CDC recommendations published last year advise only prescribing the drugs when the benefits outweigh the risks, starting with the lowest dose and for acute pain for the shortest possible time.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20203146

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Supplementary images

  • Opioids on table and in US medicine bottles
  • Dr Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC

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