Despite state efforts, high rate of painkiller prescribing continues in Oklahoma

Painkiller prescribing varies greatly by county

"We still have too many people getting medicine at too high a level and for too long", said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC.

The CDC said they're seeing fewer doctors prescribing opioids, but still, too many people are reported to be using and abusing strong painkillers.

CDC guidelines call for using acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen, exercise therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy for chronic pain. "This would quickly bring down the number of prescriptions to the proper balance of prescribed medications for those that need them, and eliminate those prescriptions made outside of the CDC recommendations".

The amount of opioids being prescribed also varies widely at the county level across the United States, with counties that are predominantly nonurban, white and low-income having the highest prescription rates. Even though the numbers are declining, prescribing painkillers is up significantly since the late 90s.

Prescription opioids alone killed almost 180,000 people from 2000 to 2015 and those overdoses, abuse and dependence on medical narcotics created an annual "economic burden" estimated at $78.5 billion, according to the new report.

The CDC said too many people are still being prescribed the highly addictive drugs and for too long.

While the analysis found that the amount of opioids prescribed per capita remained extremely high in many counties in 2015, some experts warned that averages could be misleading.




Prescriptions are measured by morphine milligram equivalents, which uses morphine as a baseline to measure the equivalent prescribed opioid, which may be more powerful. "My sense is that's not yet happening enough". The researchers estimated that the factors accounted for about a third of the prescribing differences seen among counties.

Doctors are increasingly giving patients prescriptions for opioids that last for 30 days or more. The guidelines, which are nonbinding, also recommend limiting opioid treatment for short-term pain to less than a week.

"It indicates that we're paying attention to the problem, which is good, but as it gets harder to get a prescription, people are forced onto street drugs", she said in a phone interview.

In response to the CDC's findings, the American Medical Association said in a statement that the country must do more to provide evidence-based, comprehensive treatment for pain and for substance use disorders.

Despite the national decline in the amount of opioids prescribed, the analysis found that the average number of days that opioid prescriptions were meant to last actually increased in 73 percent of the counties from 2010-2015. There was overall an 18 percent drop in prescribing. That's why, she said, it remains important to continuing reducing the prescriptions, though changing patient demand and doctor behavior will take time.

Opioids were once used to treat severe pain, post surgical pain and in end-of-life care.

Similarly, Muskogee, Bryan, Murray and Carter counties were among the 10 counties with the highest amounts of opioids prescribed, and each of those four counties is in the top 10 for high rates of opioid overdose deaths.

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