Opioid prescriptions declined 33% over 5 years


Fewer opioid retail prescriptions are being filled, according to a new report issued by the American Medical Association Opioid Task Force.

Opioid epidemic text on wooden cork over American flag. AndreyPopov/Getty Images

Opioid prescribing declined by 33% over a 5-year period based on the total number of opioid retail prescriptions filled. Total prescriptions declined from 251.8 million in 2013 to 168.8 million in 2018, according to the report.

The numbers come as the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show a leveling of deaths involving prescription opioids. The CDC data were most recently updated in January 2019 and cover the period 1999-2017.

A closer look shows that deaths involving prescription opioids, but not other synthetic narcotics, peaked in 2011 and have generally declined since then. Deaths involving other synthetic narcotics, however, have been rising, offsetting the reduction and keeping the total number of deaths involving opioids relatively stable between 2016 and 2017.

Other data released by the AMA Opioid Task Force show that physicians are increasing their use of state-level prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs).

In 2017, there were 1.5 million physicians registered to use state PDMPs. That number rose to 1.97 million in 2019. And the physicians are using PDMPs. In 2018, physicians made 460 million PDMP queries, up 56% from 2017 and up 651% from 2014.

More education about opioid prescribing is being sought, with 700,000 physicians completing CME training and accessing other training related to opioid prescribing, pain management, screening for substance use disorders, and other related topics.

While the report does show positive trends, the task force is calling for more action, including more access to naloxone and better access to mental health treatment.

The report notes that more than 66,000 physicians and other health professionals have a federal waiver to prescribe buprenorphine, up more than 28,000 since 2016.

A number of policy recommendations are made in the report, including removing inappropriate administrative burdens or barriers that delay access to medications used in medication-assisted treatment (MAT); removing barriers to comprehensive pain care and rehabilitation programs, and reforming the civil and criminal justice system to help ensure access to high-quality, evidence-based care for opioid use disorder.

“We are at a crossroads in our nation’s efforts to end the opioid epidemic,” AMA Opioid Task Force Chair Patrice A. Harris, MD, stated in the report. “It is time to end delays and barriers to medication-assisted treatment – evidence based care proven to save lives; time for payers, [pharmacy benefit managers] and pharmacy chains to reevaluate and revise policies that restrict opioid therapy to patients based on arbitrary thresholds; and time to commit to helping all patients access evidence-based care for pain and substance use disorders.”

Dr. Harris continued: “Physicians must continue to demonstrate leadership, but unless these actions occur, the progress we are making will not stop patients from dying.”

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