Opioid, Drugs

By the number of new monthly prescriptions for the medications, which treat opioid addiction nearly doubled over the last two years, while the prescriptions for opioid painkillers continued to decline.

The changing graph indicates to a stepping up of the efforts of the policymakers and the medical establishment to address the opioid epidemic of the nation that is killing more than 115 people each day. But also it underscores questions about if some pain patients are presently being undertreated, and if tightened prescribing over the last few years has contributed to the surge in overdose deaths from heroin and fentanyl.

Though the number of people taking medications to counter addiction is hiking, it remains a small fraction of the roughly 2.6 million people believed to be suffering from “opioid use disorder,” or addiction. The federal government has analyzed that around 20 percent of them are getting some treatment, but of those, only about a third are getting buprenorphine, methadone, or naltrexone, the three medications that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

By the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science that studies prescription drug use and spending, the prescriptions for the opioid painkillers have been dropping since the year 2011, but the trend accelerated last year with a decrease of 10 percent from January through December. The highest-dose prescriptions, equivalent to 90 milligrams or more of daily morphine, declined much more sharply, by 16 percent. Over the course of the year 2016, high-dose prescriptions declined by 14.3 percent and the opioid prescriptions overall declined by 1.5 percent.

By the report, the number of people who are newly prescribed opioid pain medicine dropped by 7.8 percent over the course of the year 2017, after rising by less than 1 percent in the previous year. The drops come amidst a flurry of the new insurance company policies and state laws setting limits on the opioid prescribing.

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