Opioid Painkiller Prescribing — Where You Live Makes a Difference

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes: Consider these numbers: 46 Each day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers* in the US. 259 M Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills. 10 10 of highest prescribing states for painkillers are in the South. Health issues that cause people pain don't vary much from place to place—not enough to explain why, in 2012, health care providers in the highest-prescribing state wrote almost 3 times as many opioid painkiller prescriptions per person as those in the lowest prescribing state in the US. Or why there are twice as many painkiller prescriptions per person in the US as in Canada. Data suggest that where health care providers practice influences how they prescribe. Higher prescribing of painkillers is associated with more overdose deaths. More can be done at every level to prevent overprescribing while ensuring patients' access to safe, effective pain treatment. Changes at the state level show particular promise. States can • Consider ways to increase use of prescription drug monitoring programs, which are state-run databases that track prescriptions for painkillers and can help find problems in overprescribing. Use of these programs is greater when they make data available in real-time, are universal (used by all prescribers for all controlled substances), and are actively managed (for example, send alerts to prescribers when problems are identified). • Consider policy options (including laws and regulation) relating to pain clinics (facilities that specialize in pain treatment) to reduce prescribing practices that are risky to patients. ( * “Prescription painkillers” refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone + acetaminophen), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.)
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