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Another drop in opioid prescribing – but progress is slow in rural areas, CDC report reveals 

Opioid prescriptions ARE dropping – but not enough in rural areas: CDC reveals country doctors are 87% more likely to dish out the drugs than city MDs

  • Opioid prescriptions have declined by almost 14 percent since 2014 a new CDC report found
  • But nine percent of patients that see a primary care physician still walk away with a painkiller prescription 
  • Rural patients are 87 more likely to be prescribed an addictive opioid when visiting their primary care provider  
  • Three quarters of opioid misuse disorders start with prescription drugs 
  • Overdose rates remain far higher in rural areas  

Opioid prescription rates continue to fall in the US, but doctors in rural areas hardest hit by the ongoing opioid epidemic are still slower to adopt stricter prescription standards. 

Between 2014 and 2017, opioid painkiller prescription rates fell by nearly 14 percent in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest data reveal. 

Opioid prescription rates are dropping uniformly across the country, but that decrease started later and from a higher peak than urban prescription rates. 

A gap persists and, in rural areas, where overdoses claim a disproportionate number of lives, patients are still 87 percent more likely to be prescribed an opioid painkiller. 

Although the current high – and rising – rates of overdose deaths are primarily driven by the powerful synthetic drug, fentanyl, prescription drugs are the gateway for most people, and curbing prescribing is key to stemming the epidemic at its source. 

Opioid prescriptions have fallen in the US by about 14 percent since 2014 – but rural America still gets too many prescription drugs, driving up overdose death rates 

Since the 1990s, the number of Americans that die of opioid overdoses has increased five-fold. 

Prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl collectively claimed the lives o over 70,000 people in 2017 alone.

Fentanyl has eclipsed other forms of opioids as the real villain of the opioid epidemic, but prescription drugs started the war. 

Prescriptions of the blockbuster drug OxyContin began to surge in the 1990s. 

Rates of addiction and overdoses have ridden on the wake ever since. 

Now, it is estimated that 75 percent of opioid misuse disorder started with a prescription. 

As those addictions turned to mounting death rates across the US, doctors and hospitals have tightened restrictions on prescription drug monitoring to try to get a handle on the crisis. 

It has started to work in most of the country. 

Every year since 2014, the percent of patients who went to their primary care doctor and left with an opioid prescription has fallen in most of the country. 

But rates have always been higher in rural areas, where there is poorer access to care on a regular basis and less awareness of alternative treatments for chronic pain. 

‘Higher odds of opioid prescribing in nonmetropolitan counties might be attributed in part to prescription drug use and misuse at an earlier age as well as higher prevalences of chronic pain among persons living in rural areas,’ the CDC reports wrote.   

Patients that lived in ‘noncore,’ or rural, areas of the US between 2014 and 2017 were 87 percent more likely to be prescribed opioids. 

Opioid prescription rates in more urban areas have been in a steady decline for years and continue their downward march. 

In fact, prescribing rates actually increased between 2014 and 2015, before finally flat-lining or beginning to fall.  

In 2017, just five percent of patients in large cities were prescribed painkillers. 

The significant disparity between the two underscores the need for more access to addiction assistance and better pain management in rural America. 

‘Despite reductions in opioid prescribing in recent years , opioid-involved overdose death rates have increased, largely driven by heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl,’ the authors wrote. 

‘Many persons who self-report heroin use have a history of misusing prescription opioids. Addressing opioid use is an important step in curbing opioid-involved overdose deaths.’


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