Opioid Prescriptions on the Decline in the United States

The United States has an opioid epidemic, but one of the positive developments in the fight against it is: Prescriptions for these addictive drugs for patients with private insurance have gone down.

Over the past decade, amidst guidelines from governments, health systems and insurers aimed at reducing opioid prescriptions, studies have demonstrated a nationwide drop in prescribing rates.

Cancer patients who are in active treatment will not be affected by these limits.

This new study included patients with chronic pain, both cancer and otherwise. The results showed that on average, rates for prescriptions still dropped.

we found that from 2012 to 2019 there were decreases in opioid prescribing for those with chronic non-cancer pain and for those with cancer without corresponding increases in other therapies, authors Sachini Bandara, Emma McGinty, and Mark Bicket from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, and the University of Michigan respectively wrote.

The study was published in PLOS ONE on Aug. 10.

This research indicates the need to more deeply understand how the reduction in prescription patterns has influenced the treatment of pain for these groups, especially as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working to create more nuanced guidelines for managing chronic pain, the authors say in a news release.

In the study, the researchers analyzed claims from a hundred private companies. They examined patients with cancer and those with other types of pain, including low back pain, neuropathic pain, headaches, and arthritis.

Researchers found that the number of people who were prescribed opioids for cancer-related pain dropped from 86% in 2012 to 78.7% in 2019. The percentage of people prescribed opioids for other types of pain decreased from 49.7% to 30.5%.

For people with non-cancer pain, the non-opioid pain medication rate remained steady; however, researchers found that it rose from 74.4% to 78.8% for people with cancer.

People in the study who received opioids also tended to receive smaller doses or less than a one-week supply, the researchers reported.

More research needs to be done to understand how the updated guidelines are impacting pain management in both groups.

For more information

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has more information on the opioid epidemic.

From the source: PLOS ONE, news release, Aug. 10, 2022

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