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Six times more opioids per resident were dispensed in the highest-prescribing counties in 2015 than in the lowest-prescribing counties, suggesting more liberal prescribing practices among health care providers depending on where patients live, according to research released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday.
The CDC’s annual study of opioid prescribing shows that opioid prescribing in the United States peaked in 2010 and then decreased each year through 2015 but remains at high levels and varies from county to county.
“The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. is still too high, with too many opioid prescriptions for too many days at too high a dosage,” said Anne Schuchat, M.D., acting director of the CDC, in a press statement. “Healthcare providers have an important role in offering safer and more effective pain management while reducing risks of opioid addiction and overdose.”
For the study, CDC researchers analyzed changes in annual prescribing practices from 2006 to 2015 and found a steady decline in the strength of opioids.
Between 2006 and 2015, the amount of opioids prescribed peaked in 2010 at 782 morphine milligram equivalents per person and decreased to 640 in 2015. Known as MME, the measure is the amount of opioids in milligrams that can account for differences in opioid drug type and strength. Daily MME per prescription remained stable from 2006 to 2010 and then decreased 17% from 2010 to 2015.
Meanwhile, the average supply per prescription increased 33% from 13 days in 2006 to almost 18 days in 2015. Countrywide, the amount of opioids prescribed per capita in 2015 was still approximately three times as high as in 1999.
Doctors in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and New York are prescribing the most opioids to injured workers who didn’t need major surgery, according to a policy analyst who sifted through workers compensation claims for 25 states between 2009 and 2014.