Health

Opioid Prescriptions Drop 9 Percent, but Not Far Enough

'The emergency room offered me three different levels of pain medication, including' this powerful painkiller, said one patient

The number of prescriptions for opioid painkillers filled in the U.S. fell dramatically last year — the biggest drop in 25 years.

People in the U.S. consume roughly 30 percent of all opioids used worldwide.

The IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, a health data firm, shared those figures Thursday, revealing a 9 percent average drop nationwide in the number of prescriptions for opioids filled by both retail and mail-order pharmacies. All 50 states and the District of Columbia had declines of more than 5 percent, the study noted.

The decrease comes amid increasing legal restrictions and public awareness of the dangers of opioid addiction.

Declines topped 10 percent in 18 states, which include the New England area, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

“We’re at a really critical moment in the country when everybody’s paying attention to this issue,” Michael Kleinrock, the institute’s research director, told the Chicago Tribune. “People really don’t want them if they can avoid them.”

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There was an even bigger decline in total dosage of opioid prescriptions filled in 2017, which were down 12 percent from 2016.

Still, there’s much work to do in the area of opioid prescribing. Doctors continue to recommend far too many opioid painkillers to patients following surgery, according to a new study from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, also released Thursday.

“I had a deep cut on one finger — painful, but not anything I couldn’t handle with rest and over-the-counter meds,” a 56-year-old Boston-area man told LifeZette. “The emergency room offered me three different levels of pain medicine, including an opioid. Definitely not warranted for my situation.”

Patients are becoming wiser about opioids. One of every three patients prescribed an opioid, such as OxyContin, didn’t take a single pill during their recuperation, lead researcher Elizabeth Habermann — scientific director for surgical outcomes at the Mayo Clinic — told U.S. News and World Report’s HealthDay.

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“Their entire prescription amount went unused,” Habermann said. “That showed us there’s an opportunity to prescribe a certain select group of patients zero opioids, and they may be able to take care of their pain with acetaminophen [Tylenol] or NSAIDs alone.” NSAIDs are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as Motrin or Advil.

Deirdre Reilly is a senior editor at LifeZette.

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