Forty-six Americans die every day from an overdose of prescription painkillers, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012. “That’s enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills,” CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, said.
Prescriptions for opioid painkillers were distributed unevenly throughout the United States. Healthcare providers in Alabama, Tennessee, and West Virginia wrote the most painkiller prescriptions per person. The Northeast had the most per-person prescriptions for long-acting painkillers and for high-dose painkillers, especially Maine and New Hampshire.
The good news is that states can take steps to curb overprescribing and reduce opioid-related deaths. Florida is a prime example. After statewide legislative and enforcement actions in 2010 and 2011, the number of opioid prescriptions and related deaths decreased significantly. These changes may well represent the first well-documented, substantial decline in drug overdose mortality in any state during the past 10 years.
Healthcare providers also have an essential role to play. “Just because someone has pain doesn’t mean they need an opiate. Healthcare providers can use prescription drug monitoring programs to identify patients who might be misusing drugs, putting them at risk for overdose, and use effective treatment, such as methadone, for appropriate patients with substance abuse problems. They can also discuss with patients the risks and the benefits of pain treatment options, including options that don’t include prescription opiates or benzodiazepines,” Dr. Friedan said.