Opioid painkiller prescribing varies widely among states: CDC

July 2, 2014

Healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012—many more in some states than in others—according to a Vital Signs report released yesterday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that highlights the danger of overdose. The report also has an example of a state that reversed its overdose trend.

Healthcare providers in the highest prescribing state, Alabama, wrote almost three times as many of these prescriptions per person as those in the lowest prescribing state, Hawaii. Most of the highest prescribing states were in the South. Previous research has shown that regional variation in use of prescriptions cannot be explained by the underlying health status of the population.

The Vital Signs report also contains a study highlighting the success of Florida in reversing prescription drug overdose trends. Results showed that after statewide legislative and enforcement actions in 2010 and 2011, the death rate from prescription drug overdose decreased 23% between 2010 and 2012. Florida officials had taken these actions in response to a 28% increase in the drug overdose death rate over the preceding years (2006-2010).

Declines in death rates in Florida for specific prescription painkillers (oxycodone, methadone, and hydrocodone) and sedatives paralleled declines in prescribing rates for those drugs. This report was based on Florida Medical Examiners Commission data from 2006 to 2012 and IMS Health National Prescription Audit data from 2008 to 2012.

“Prescription drug overdose is epidemic in the United States,” says CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Overdose rates are higher where these drugs are prescribed more frequently. States and practices where prescribing rates are highest need to take a particularly hard look at ways to reduce the inappropriate prescription of these dangerous drugs.” Read the Vital Signs report.

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