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Opioids remain most prescribed pain medication in California

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As the overuse and costs of prescription pain medications in the U.S. continues, California's workers compensation system reported opioids were still the state's No. 1 prescribed drug.

In a report released Thursday by the California Workers' Compensation Institute, studies show that although there is an increased awareness of the dangers in prescribing opioid painkillers due to their addictive quality, they still made up 27.2% of total prescriptions in the state workers comp system in 2014.

Using the data from 10.8 million workers comp prescriptions dispensed to injured California workers, the CWCI study said the average cost of opioid prescriptions increased by 85.2% to $113 in 2014 from $61 in 2005. However, other prescription drugs in that same time frame only increased by 39.4%, to $131 from $94.

According to the report, the proportion of injured workers receiving opioids within the first 24 months after an injury increased to 27.9% in 2012 from 22.4% percent in 2005.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in the study that “there is a serious and worsening epidemic of overuse of prescription pain medications in the United States.” CMS said the most commonly abused medications are the “extremely addictive” opioid prescriptions.

The lack of management for the opioid patients has been one of the reasons behind the increase in overdose deaths, with the report referencing a January CMS publication that said since 2000, the rate of deaths from drug overdoses has increased 137%, including a 200% increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids, which includes opioid pain relievers and heroin.

One positive trend was also reported in the CWCI findings: In California, opioids being dispensed to injured workers dropped to 27.2% in 2014 compared with 2009, when it peaked at 31.9%

Suggestions in the report include having more physicians monitoring patients taking opioids and offering lower dosages for continued pain management treatment. Regulators in the state are also focusing on prescription drug monitoring programs and the implementation of a statewide formulary in July 2017, the report said.