Current Trends in Opioid Prescriptions
President Trump in late August declared that he considered opioids to be “a national emergency,” thereby increasing the intensity of an already bright spotlight on the current state of opioid prescriptions in the United States. While healthcare providers have been aware of the issues of overprescribed and inappropriately prescribed opioids, addiction potential, and overdose risk, the general population may not have been—until recently.
All of these events combine to paint a bleak picture of drastic change necessary to stem the rising tide of opioid prescriptions. But how has opioid prescribing been trending in the last 3 years based on hard data? The recently released CDC Annual Surveillance Report of Drug-Related Risks and Outcomes presents a clearer picture.
From 2006 to 2008, the number of opioid prescriptions written increased 4.1% annually.3 From 2008 to 2012 that rate slowed to 1.1% annually, and then from 2014 to 2016, that rate dropped to an annual decrease of 5% per year.3 Essentially, compared to 2014, prescribers wrote 15% fewer opioid prescriptions this past year, which equates to a reduction of more than 26 million prescriptions.3 The number of opioid patients per 100 Americans in 2014 was 20.7, whereas at the end of last year it was 19.1.3 The average MME per prescription dropped as well, from 59.7 in 2006 to 47.1 in 2016.3
Surely these figures represent good news, and provide evidence that opioids are a problem that is being addressed at the surface level, potentially by health institutions being proactive with opioid therapy plans and programs. However, 1 area in which data suggests a potentially troubling trend is in chronic pain prescriptions—classified as prescriptions with a day’s supply greater than 30 days. This category of prescribing saw a 55% increase from 2006, when there were 17 chronic prescriptions per 100 Americans versus 27 prescriptions per 100 in 2016.