The Centers for Disease Control released a report last week revealing the wide variance between different states when it comes to the amount of painkiller prescriptions given out in recent years. High prescription rates of commonly abused drugs best known by brand names such as Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin often reflect high rates of inappropriate drug use, exposing a need for prescription regulation in many areas.
“Overdose from opioid narcotics are a serious problem across the country and we know opioid overdoses tend to be highest where opioids get the highest use,” says CDC director Tom Frieden.
In 2012, providers in Alabama wrote 143 prescriptions for every 100 residents. Hawaii, the state with the lowest rate, saw 52 prescriptions per 100 people, nearly a third of Alabama’s number.
Since rates of painful illnesses don’t differ enough from state to state to explain the wide disparity, many are calling on individual states to change their policies in an effort to reduce prescription abuse, misuse and overdose across the nation. Florida, once known for its large amount of unregulated “pill mills,” has seen a drop in opioid overdose deaths by 27% between 2010 and 2012 as a result of policy changes.
According to the CDC, Florida closed about 250 pain clinics in 2013 and implemented a new prescription-monitoring program with the goal of deterring providers from over-prescribing to patients. In that year, deaths from oxycodone alone fell 52.1%.
Florida’s success in decreasing statewide overdose deaths indicates that state policies can have an influence on the growing prescription abuse problem that is sweeping the nation. Researchers say the state’s progress could be instructive for others like Alabama, West Virginia and Tennessee.
“The take-home message is that the problem needs to be attacked from several different angles, including policy changes and enforcement,” says researcher Hal Johnson, a consultant to the Florida Department of Health and co-author of the report. It seems that, for now, a state’s regulation of prescription-happy providers is a proven strategy that could potentially pave the way for a more consistent and widespread standard in the fight against prescription painkiller abuse.