According to data reported by IMS Health, an information technology company, eight states have more opioid prescriptions than residents. That is, the prescription-per-capita (prescriptions-per1-resident) rate is greater than 1. That’s more than one prescription for EVERY resident in the state, including children.
All of the top states for prescription writing are in the central or east southern United States. They include Alabama at #1 (1.2 prescriptions per resident) followed by Tennessee, West Virginia, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Kentucky.
How Did This Happen?
Well, clearly the opioid epidemic is the U.S. has been fueled by the pharmaceutical companies, Purdue Pharma in particular. Indeed, the makers of OxyContin continue to reap over $3 billion per year on the drug, despite having paid millions in fines for misleading the public about its addictive nature. What’s more, 90% of the prescription drugs abused were once legally sold through prescriptions.
Opioids, simply put, are painkillers synthesized by labs, intended to affect the brain in the same manner as the naturally-occurring chemicals found in opium. Examples of opioids include hydrocodone (i.e. Norco and Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), and Fentanyl, the potent drug that killed the artist Price.
Researchers and experts have known for years about the potential dangers of opioids, such as dependency, tolerance, and life-threatening central nervous system depression (overdose.) When Purdue Pharma marketed OxyContin back in the 1990’s, however, it claimed its time-release formulation was abuse-resistant. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Prior to the 1990’s, opioids were used for intense, acute pain after surgery, cancer pain, or end-of-life scenarios. Now, they are used for everything from fibromyalgia to wisdom tooth removal. For some, they can improve the quality of life. But for others, dependency is a crutch that they just can’t seem to put down.
Currently, opioid drug manufacturers have adopted a survival strategy that largely consists of lobbyists and millions of dollars in campaign contributions, intended to curb legal initiatives. That is, measures that could possibly put a dent in the number of opioids available on the streets. Although drugmakers state they are trying to battle the epidemic, they continue to use tactics which delay or squash any legislation that aims to put limitations on opioid drug prescriptions.
What’s Being Done
Nearly all 50 states have now implemented a prescription monitoring program, a system that allows doctors to check a patient’s history of narcotic use before writing a prescription. In many cases, however, use of this database is not mandatory.
And because so many unused painkillers end up in the hands of those who will use them illicitly, more and more pharmacies and drop off locations are being implemented, so that unused drugs can be disposed of properly.
This past year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a set of prescribing guidelines for doctors, which discourage the use of opioids for chronic pain, and limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain to just two weeks. Like monitoring databases, however, doctors are not obligated to use the recommendations.