America has been battling the pressure of the growing opioid epidemic. However, as every cloud has a silver lining, there is some improvement in the situation in the form of a decline in opioid prescriptions. An analysis by the New York Times in May 2016 revealed that opioid prescriptions have dropped for the first time in two decades.
The last two decades saw an increase in opioid prescriptions in spite of evidence of people suffering from opioid addiction and overdose. However, in the last three years – 2013, 2014 and 2015 – the number of opioid prescriptions by doctors and physicians has declined.
Sabrina Tavernise, one of the two journalists who wrote the New York Times article, said, “The hope is that the decline in the prescribing is sort of a harbinger or a signal that the life cycle of this epidemic may be on the down (slope) now.”
Efforts to curb opioid prescriptions show positive result
The drop in the prescriptions by doctors signifies a change of attitudes. Increased public concerns about the dangers of opioids and the drop in the number of prescriptions reflect a shift in attitude among physicians, who are carefully weighing the drugs’ effectiveness as pain medication against their high potential for addiction. Yet, experts are wondering about its immediate impact on the crisis.
The New York Times highlighted a few studies that showed the decline in prescriptions. IMS Health, known for granular insights on pharmaceuticals and health, found a 12 percent decline in opioid prescriptions in the U.S. since 2012. Symphony Health Solutions, another company dealing with pharmaceutical and healthcare data, revealed an 18 percent reduction since 2012.
The IMS also reported that the number of opioid prescriptions has been on a decline in 49 states since 2013. The sharpest drop came from West Virginia, the state badly entangled in opioid epidemic, followed by Texas and Oklahoma. Dr. Bruce Psaty, a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle who studies drug safety, said, “The culture is changing. We are on the downside of a curve with opioid prescribing now.”
Do fewer prescriptions mean fewer deaths?
The daily, however, reported that fewer prescriptions have not reduced the number of deaths till now. According to the recent federal health data, over 28,000 people succumbed to opioids in 2014 in the U.S. The number includes deaths from prescription painkillers, like OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin, and heroin. The use of heroin has risen significantly as the availability of other prescription drugs have been under strict scanner by authorities concerned. Heroin is also sold on streets illegally.
Though experts in the healthcare sector have agreed that there has been a decline in opioid prescription, they, however, differ in how the move has affected patients. National Institute on Drug Abuse director Nora Volkow said, “The urgency of the epidemic, its devastating consequences, demands interventions that in some instances may make it harder for some patients to get their medication.” She added that it is imperative to create a system so that the actual patients who are in dire need of certain medicines should not be affected.
Though the data measures the number of prescriptions, it does not measure the quantities of pills prescribed. So it can be referred to as a rough proxy of the opioid usage. Nevertheless, if the doctors become vigilant about prescribing opioids in the light of the current epidemic, the situation of addiction, overdose and deaths can change for the better.
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