Opioid Prescriptions Remain High In Ohio Even As Overdose Deaths Soar

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

A new report shows chronic pain patients living in Ohio are still receiving large doses of opioid painkillers, even as overdose deaths soar to record highs.

Officials with the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released data Tuesday showing medications like Vicodin and Oxycodone are still being prescribed at a high rate across the state to Medicaid beneficiaries. Between June 2016 and May 2017, roughly 5,000 patients on Medicaid, excluding those receiving addiction treatment or in hospice care, received opioid scripts at dosage levels that put them at physical risk, reports the Dayton Daily News.

Officials say providers appear to be ignoring prescribing guidelines from both state regulators and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report comes at a time Ohio is suffering the second largest drug overdose death rate in the country, trailing only West Virginia. (RELATED: Study: States Might Be Undercounting Opioid Deaths By As Much As 70,000)

“Among those receiving high amounts, more than 700 beneficiaries are at serious risk of prescription opioid misuse or overdose,” officials said in the report, according to the Dayton Daily News. “Some received extreme amounts of opioids, while others appeared to be doctor shopping. … Our results suggest that some prescribers and pharmacies may not be following Ohio’s opioid prescribing policies, potentially putting Medicaid beneficiaries at risk.”

Ohio lost 4,329 residents to drug overdoses in 2016 — a 24 percent increase over 2015 — due to the worsening opioid epidemic spreading death throughout the country. Nearly 40 in 100,000 people die from drug-related overdoses in Ohio.

The number of opioid deaths would be much higher without the presence of the overdose reversal drug naloxone, officials say. Ohio first responders administered roughly 43,000 doses of naloxone in 2016.

Nationally, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death for Americans under age 50, killing more than 64,000 people in 2016.

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