Painkiller Prescription Practices Differ Across US

Opioid painkiller prescriptions and overdoses more common in certain US states

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Medications intended to ease pain can sometimes cause more when an overdose occurs. People in certain US states may be at a greater risk for overdoses based on the prescription practices in those states.

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), rates of opioid painkiller prescriptions vary greatly from state to state.

The report showed that Southern states had the highest rates of opioid prescriptions.

CDC urged the public to use medications only as prescribed and to not share prescription medications.

"Follow your doctor's instructions when using medication."

Opioid painkillers, including hydrocodone (brand name Vicodin) and oxycodone (OxyContin), are often prescribed to help patients with chronic pain or with pain following an operation. But sometimes, these medications can lead to addiction or to overdose.

To explore rates of opioid painkiller use and abuse, CDC researchers used data from retail pharmacies across the US.

The study found that overall, 259 million painkiller prescriptions were issued in 2012 — a figure which CDC noted was enough for every adult in the US to receive a bottle of pain pills.

CDC reported that across the US, around 46 people die each day from an overdose of these medications.

However, rates of both prescriptions and overdoses varied greatly between states and regions, with Southern states tending to prescribe more opioid painkillers.

The state with the lowest prescribing rate, Hawaii, was found to have 52 painkiller prescriptions per every 100 people. In the highest prescribing state, Alabama, the rate was 143 painkiller prescriptions per every 100 people — a rate that was nearly three times as high as Hawaii's.

CDC noted that differences between the states may be due to a number of factors, including regional opinions on when and how these medications should be prescribed. In some cases, patients may seek painkiller prescriptions from multiple providers.

According to CDC, higher rates of painkiller prescriptions tend to be associated with higher rates of overdose deaths. The report also noted that several states, including New York, Florida and Tennessee, have seen success after passing legislation to help monitor and control painkiller prescriptions.

In Florida, the rate of oxycodone overdose deaths dropped by more than 50 percent in 2012 after 2010 legislation regulating pain clinics and in-office dispensing of painkillers.

CDC suggested that states employ prescription drug monitoring programs. They also recommended that the public use medications as prescribed and not share prescription medications.

"Dispose of medications properly, as soon as the course of treatment is done, and avoid keeping prescription painkillers or sedatives around 'just in case,'" CDC stressed.

This report was published online July 1 in CDC's Vital Signs. No conflicts of interest were reported. 

Review Date: 
July 1, 2014
Last Updated:
July 1, 2014