Opioid Prescriptions Remain Static Despite Record Number Of Deaths

Steve Birr | Vice Reporter

The annual number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers has largely remained static since 2007 despite record high overdose deaths and increased dosages.

A study published Wednesday in medical journal The BMJ reveals that between 2007 and 2016, the percentage of commercially insured patients prescribed opioids held steady at 14 percent. The research, lead by Molly Moore Jeffery of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, shows the culture in medicine is still too relaxed when it comes to dishing out painkillers to patients, reported Reuters.

The study investigated the individual patient data of 48 million people with health insurance, both commercial and through Medicare. The prescription data was then converted into milligram morphine equivalents (MME). They found the average MME dosage across all patients reviewed in the study was higher in 2016 than in 2007, a level Jeffery said is a “point where you see a greater risk of overdose.” (RELATED: Synthetic Opioids Are Causing Cocaine, Xanax Deaths To Skyrocket)

“All reports are showing that opioid prescribing still occurs too frequently and (is) far higher than in the 1990s in the U.S.,” Dr. John Mafi of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Reuters. “This is a cause for alarm and we need rapid and effective policy changes to decrease overprescribing and reduce opioid-related deaths.”

The researchers advocate for a general shift within the medical community away from opioids, however, Jeffery does not advocate legislative solutions that end up impacting patient access to crucial medication.

Data released by officials with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 11 shows the majority of opioid-linked deaths are now the result of synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

The report shows synthetic opioids killed roughly 27,000 people across the U.S. over the 12-month period ending November 2017, up from roughly 19,413 lives in 2016 and 9,580 lives in 2015. The sharp increase prompted a Health Alert Network warning from CDC officials advising of the ever-increasing presence of synthetic opioids in the drug supply, including in non-opioid narcotics such as cocaine.

Prescription opioids still accounted for more than 40 percent of opioid linked deaths in 2016, killing roughly 46 people each day.

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