Reports released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that opioid prescriptions in the United States decreased from 2005-2010. Although this news is encouraging, overdose numbers stemming from prescription drug misuse reveal a different portrait of the opioid epidemic.
The reason? Even though opioid prescriptions have decreased by 13 percent over a 5-year period, the number of prescriptions is still too high.
NPR quoted the CDC’s acting director Anne Schuchat, who stated, “The bottom line is that too many [people] are still getting too much for too long. And that is driving our problem with drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths in the country.”
Prescribing tactics have come under fire in recent months, with several states even moving to sue pharmaceutical companies—the ones responsible for advertising low risk of opioid addiction. Emergency departments across the nation are now trained to prescribe painkillers only when absolutely necessary; doctors are faced with making changes to their prescribing practices.
The CDC issued guidelines for long-term opioid therapy in 2016. Their checklist for practitioners, which is available here, aims to curb overprescription while providing doctors with alternative methods.
While long-term opioid therapies are still an option for many patients, the patients must be closely monitored. Evaluations should begin as soon as one week after the initial prescription, according to the CDC.
With chronic pain continuing to plague so many individuals in the US, medical providers are left searching for answers in response to the addiction epidemic that long-term opioid use has created.
Millions of Americans are addicted to painkillers, and the risk of addiction is one that is not often made clear to those undergoing long-term (or even short-term) opioid therapy.
The CDC suggested in March that opioid addiction can begin within the very first days of use, and that patients’ risk for addiction increases “most sharply” within the immediate period following prescription.
While the recent decrease in recorded prescriptions is encouraging news, it is crucial that medical providers and addiction treatment providers remain vigilant in their response to the opioid epidemic.
Even after the noted decrease, Schuchat concluded that the number of opioid prescriptions in the US today would be enough for “every American [to] be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”
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