07.03.2021

Fewer prescriptions for addictive opioid painkillers filed last year

New data show that the number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the US fell dramatically last year, marking the biggest drop in 25 years.

The decline comes amid increasing legal restrictions and public awareness of the dangers of addiction.

Prescription opioids are thought to be a primary driver of the opioid epidemic, as about 80 percent of those who use heroin started with prescription drugs.

A health data firm released a report Thursday showing a nine percent average drop nationwide in the number of prescriptions for opioids filled by retail and mail-order pharmacies.

Americans filled 8.9 percent fewer prescriptions for opioids like Percocet (pictured) in 2017 than they had in previous years, new data has revealed

Americans filled 8.9 percent fewer prescriptions for opioids like Percocet (pictured) in 2017 than they had in previous years, new data has revealed

The US is estimated to consume roughly 30 percent of all opioids used worldwide.

The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the US fell dramatically last year, showing their biggest drop in 25 years and continuing a decline amid increasing legal restrictions and public awareness of the dangers of addiction, new data show.

Health data firm IQVIA’s Institute for Human Data Science released a report Thursday showing an 8.9 percent average drop nationwide in the number of prescriptions for opioids filled by retail and mail-order pharmacies.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia had declines of more than 5 percent. Declines topped 10 percent in 18 states, including all of New England and other states hit hard by the opioid overdose epidemic, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

‘We’re at a really critical moment in the country when everybody’s paying attention to this issue,’ said Michael Kleinrock, the institute’s research director. ‘People really don’t want them if they can avoid them.’

There was an even greater drop in total dosage of opioid prescriptions filled in 2017, down 12 percent from 2016.

Reasons for that include more prescriptions being for a shorter duration, a 7.8 percent decline in new patients starting on opioid prescriptions and far fewer high-dose prescriptions.

In view of the opioid crisis, public figures and even states have been taking aim at drug companies who have profited off of addictive prescription drugs.

In the last year, several states have filed lawsuits against OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, against whom famed photographer Nan Goldin has also started a petition.

The new data suggest that doctors and patients alike may be taking note, and the tide may be starting to turn against pharmaceutical companies.

Opioid doses are measured in ‘morphine milligram equivalents’ (A standard Vicodin pill has the equivalent of 5 milligrams of morphine).

Prescriptions for dosages of 90 morphine milligram equivalents per day or more, which carry the highest addiction risk, declined by 16 percent last year, according to the report.

Opioid prescriptions and daily doses rose steadily starting in the 1990s, fueled by factors including marketing of new opioid pills such as Oxycontin.

Use peaked in 2011 at levels far above those in other wealthy countries where national health systems control narcotics more aggressively.

The US decline has come after overdoses and deaths from prescription opioids and illicit narcotics soared, and multiple groups pushed back.

The federal government and about half the states have enacted restrictions, such as limiting the dose or duration of opioids that can be prescribed.

Doctors are required by law in most states to use a monitoring system to check how frequently their patients have been prescribed opioids and report any new prescriptions they write to the same system.

But the law is difficult to enforce, and compliance among doctors is inconsistent.

Insurers and drug stores began imposing similar limits on opioid use for acute pain, as opposed to cancer and chronic pain patients.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) increased prosecution of heavy prescribers.

And numerous medical groups have issued guidelines urging prescribers to offer other pain-management options when possible and to limit doses and duration of opioid prescriptions.

Despite those measures, deaths from drug overdoses have continued to increase in the US and emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year, according to government data.

Doctors have been heeding the messages from medical groups, and some worry they’ll be arrested or lose their license if they provide too many opioids, said Bob Twillman, executive director of the Academy of Integrative Pain Management, which represents doctors and others who treat pain patients.

‘We get a lot of phone calls from patients whose primary care doctors have said they won’t prescribe opioids at all,’ and want referrals to other doctors, Twillman said.

The opioid data are part of IQVIA’s annual report on US drug-spending trends. It noted that last year the total spent on prescription drugs, after multiple discounts and rebates drug-makers give to middlemen, was $324 billion, up 0.6 percent. The report forecasts that after such discounts, drug spending will rise by two percent to five percent annually for the next five years.

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