Number of opioid prescriptions falls for fifth year in a row

Number of opioid prescriptions falls for fifth year in a row
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The number of opioid prescriptions issued nationwide has dropped by 22 percent between 2013 and 2017, which a doctors group touted as progress in fighting the epidemic of opioid addiction.

The report from the American Medical Association (AMA) finds there were 55 million fewer prescriptions over that time period and the number of prescriptions has dropped for five years in a row.

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“While this progress report shows physician leadership and action to help reverse the epidemic, such progress is tempered by the fact that every day, more than 115 people in the United States die from an opioid-related overdose,” said Dr. Patrice Harris, chairwoman of the AMA’s Opioid Task Force.

“What is needed now is a concerted effort to greatly expand access to high-quality care for pain and for substance use disorders. Unless and until we do that, this epidemic will not end.”

The report also finds there was a 121 percent increase between 2016 and 2017 in doctors accessing electronic databases that track opioid prescribing and can help identify abuse.

As of May, there were 50,000 doctors certified to provide buprenorphine, a drug to treat opioid addiction, a 42 percent increase in the last 12 months, the report found. A shortage of doctors certified to provide that treatment has been an ongoing problem.

Some policymakers have proposed limits on how long opioid prescriptions can last, such as a three-day limit, but the AMA has opposed those efforts, saying that would interfere with doctors’ decision making.

The AMA instead calls for reducing barriers to treatment drugs and enforcing laws to ensure that insurance plans provide adequate coverage of addiction care.