Here is some good news, sort of, within the context of the terrible news that our country is mired in the worst opioid epidemic in U.S. history.
The number of prescriptions for opioids written by health-care providers declined between 2012 and 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC announced that prescriptions for highly addictive painkillers such as oxycodone dropped 13.1 percent over the three-year period, from 81.2 per 100 people to 70.6.
Although, opioid prescriptions are still high, according to the CDC website, it differs from county to county within each state.
According to the Washington Post, the CDC’s acting director Anne Schuchat expressed tempered optimism about the first national decline in opioid prescriptions since the crisis began in the late 1990s.
“The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. is still too high, with too many opioid prescriptions for too many days at too high a dosage,” said Schuchat.
She added that, even with the decline, enough opioids were ordered in 2015 to keep every American, all 326 million of us, medicated round-the-clock for three weeks.
Indeed the prescription rate in the U.S. is still triple the level it was in 1999 and four times what it is in some European countries.
“It looks a little bit better, but you really have to put that in context,” Schuchat said. “We’re still seeing too many people get too much for too long.”
As is well-known, overprescribing of legal opioids sparked the addiction crisis.
Leading the way in reckless prescribing is Purdue Pharma, the billion-dollar producers of OxyContin.
And recently, overdose deaths from illicit drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl, have risen much faster than the rate of overdoses from medical narcotics.
The Washington Post quoted Gary Mendell, founder of Shatterproof, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the devastation that addiction causes families. He acknowledged “the improvements being made.”
Mendell, who lost his son to addiction in 2011, reiterated estimates that 80 percent of opioid abusers first become addicted to prescription narcotics, not street drugs.
Mendell suggested that prescribing practices should be measured and responded to in real time. He called the CDC’s process of collecting data cumbersome and inefficient.
And he might have a point.
The latest year for which the CDC released data was 2015, which indicated that more than 33,000 people had died of opioid overdoses, including more than 15,000 of whom had taken a prescription narcotic.
Nearly 13,000 more died of heroin overdoses.
A nationwide survey conducted by the New York Times indicated that those figures may be rising sharply in 2016.
“Can you imagine being on a conference call with a company, and they announce data that’s two years old?” said Mendell, a former hotel executive and business entrepreneur. “There’s a simple saying in business: What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done.”