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Opioid Prescriptions Are Down, But Not Gone

by Nick

Many cases of opioid addiction begin with a prescription. Plenty of patients take opioids for pain with minimal risk. However, the number of opioid overdoses that happen has a direct link to the number of prescriptions written. This connection makes it vital for prescribers to take care with the prescriptions they write. Recent research suggests that we now have a lower number of opioid prescriptions, but we still have work to do.

How Many Opioid Prescriptions Do Doctors Write Today Compared to the Past?

New data suggests that we made steps toward fewer opioid prescriptions in the past few years. A study from The New England Journal of Medicine shows that we had 54 percent fewer opioid prescriptions in 2017 than in 2012. The researchers tracked initial prescriptions as documented in insurance claims data. They also paid attention to the types of opioids prescribed, their dosage and the length of the prescription.

While the overall number of initial prescriptions decreased, a subgroup of doctors still write high-risk initial prescriptions. The researchers considered high-risk prescriptions to involve periods longer than three days and high doses of opioids. Doctors at private, primary care practices had the highest likelihood of prescribing opioids for long periods or in high amounts.

According to the study, some doctors also seemed to avoid prescribing opioids in appropriate situations. The data did not show whether they recommended any alternatives. Some doctors may avoid opioid prescriptions instead of managing them, which means under-managing the patient’s pain. This trend and the others explored in the study suggest that the medical field needs more education on opioid prescribing.

The CDC’s 2016 Prescribing Guidelines

In 2016, the CDC developed official guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain. They recommend the following practices to doctors writing opioid prescriptions:

  • Prioritize other options for first-line or long-term pain relief
  • Discuss potential risks with patients before and during opioid treatment
  • Begin with low doses and raise the amount with care
  • Prescribe no more opioids than needed when addressing acute pain
  • Evaluate the patient’s risk factors for opioid use disorder
  • Find an alternative painkiller if the patient also takes benzodiazepines

Every patient has a different experience with pain, so prescribing opioids requires an evidence-based — yet compassionate — approach.

Creating a Safer Future for Everyone

The information we have from research and the CDC can guide us toward a future with fewer opioid overdoses. Reducing the number of opioid use disorder cases in America could involve actions such as:

  • Providing more education and guidelines to private practices
  • Establishing prescription monitoring across medical providers
  • Educating patients and doctors about the importance of care coordination
  • Switching to another medication after a patient has a nonfatal overdose

With an evidence-based and stigma-free approach, we can ensure that all patients receive prescriptions that fit their needs.

Get Help From Health Care Resource Centers

If you need help recovering from opioid use disorder, the team at HCRC can provide compassionate care. We give people in New England the resources they need to reclaim their lives from opioids. Schedule an intake by contacting our staff onlineor calling 866-758-7769.

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