Southern Doctors Write More Opioid Painkiller Prescriptions Than Their Northern Counterparts Do
July 3, 2014

Southern Doctors Write More Opioid Painkiller Prescriptions Than Their Northern Counterparts Do

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Opioid painkiller use in the US vary greatly by region, with most of the highest-prescribing states being located in the southern part of the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has revealed in a new report.

According to the study, health care providers from southern US states typically had the highest per-person rate of opioid or narcotic pain reliever prescriptions, which include drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone+acetaminophen), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.

The highest rates were reported in the states of Alabama, Tennessee, and West Virginia. In fact, the CDC explained that Alabama health care providers had written nearly three times more painkiller prescriptions (143 per person) than the lowest-prescribing state, Hawaii (52 per person).

“Doctors in the South have also topped prescription rate lists for other medications, including antibiotics and stimulants for children,” explained AP writer Mike Stobbe. “Rates of chronic disease tend to be higher in the South, but past research has found that doesn't explain away the difference.”

The CDC also found that 46 people each day die as a result of overdosing on prescription painkillers, said Tom Howell Jr. of The Washington Times. Furthermore, it found that health care providers wrote a total of 259 million painkiller prescriptions in 2012 – enough for every American adult to have his or her own bottle of pills, he added.

The study also found that states in the northeast, particularly Maine and New Hampshire, had the most prescriptions per person for long-acting and high-dose painkillers, and that variation was greatest for the painkiller oxymorphone. In fact, Nearly 22 times more oxymorphone prescriptions were written in Tennessee than in Minnesota.

“Prescription drug overdose is epidemic in the United States,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a statement. “All too often, and in far too many communities, the treatment is becoming the problem. Overdose rates are higher where these drugs are prescribed more frequently. States and practices where prescribing rates are highest need to take a particularly hard look at ways to reduce the inappropriate prescription of these dangerous drugs.”

There are several possible explanations for this variation, according to the CDC. Health care providers in different parts of the country sometimes disagree on when to prescribe painkillers, and how much to prescribe at any given time. Some of the increased demand is due to people using them for nonmedical purposes, acquiring them for resale, or obtaining them illegally from multiple prescribers at the same time.

In order to compile the report, the CDC analyzed 2012 prescribing data collected from retail pharmacies by commercial vendors throughout the US, and calculated prescribing rates by state for various types of opioid painkillers. The agency also emphasized that previous studies have demonstrated that state variation of painkiller use and prescription does not necessarily result in better health outcomes or higher levels of patient satisfaction.

“We know we can do better. State variation in prescribing shows us that the overprescribing of opioids can be reduced safely and feasibly,” said Dr. Daniel M. Sosin, the acting director of the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Improving how opioids are prescribed will help us prevent the 46 prescription painkiller overdose deaths that occur each day in the United States.”


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