And length of prescriptions went up, raising risk of addiction among patients

Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have dropped since 2010 in the United States, but the number of Americans getting the highly addictive medications is still too high, a new report shows.

Prescriptions declined from a peak of 782 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per person in 2010 to 640 MME per person in 2015, according to researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Half of U.S. counties saw a decrease in the amount of opioids prescribed per person from 2010 to 2015,” said CDC Acting Director Dr. Anne Schuchat. “Overall, opioid prescribing in the United States is down 18 percent since 2010.”

But the total amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 was still about three times that of 1999, the CDC researchers said, with many people being provided lengthy prescriptions of the narcotics at high doses.

“We’re still seeing too many getting too much for too long,” Schuchat said. “The amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks.”

Drug overdoses accounted for just over 52,400 deaths in 2015, and nearly two of three overdoses involved an opioid, according to the CDC.

Prescriptions are still providing high doses of opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, for periods long enough to turn patients into addicts, Schuchat noted.

People are being handed opioid prescriptions that cover longer periods of time, increasing from an average 13 days in 2006 to almost 18 days in 2015, the report found.

“Anyone taking opioids can become addicted to them. After taking them for just a few days, a person becomes more likely to take them long term,” Schuchat said. “Taking even a low-dose opioid for more than three months increases the risk of addiction by 15 times.”

Patients also are being prescribed dangerously high levels of opioids,  even though the average daily dose per prescription decreased from 58 MME in 2010 to 48 MME in 2015. Researchers use MME as a means of accounting for differences in opioid drug types and strengths.

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SOURCE: HealthDay News
Dennis Thompson