Though we see dozens of news stories, documentaries and political ramblings about America’s opioid crisis, one question (above all) deserves to be raised. Are these drugs being distributed less across the U.S.? And shockingly, according to new research provided by Forbes, the answer may be no.
That’s right. With as much publicity as the crisis is getting, prescriptions for these painkillers are not slowing down. And while we certainly agree that treatment, recovery and care for those addicted is a primary concern, a key component of stopping this epidemic is making these drugs less available.
Forbes cites the Mayo Clinic for providing this latest data. Their research claims that over the past 10 years (since the epidemic truly kicked into high gear), opioid prescriptions have remained consistent and not decreased. Worse yet, those that have gone to Medicare patients have reportedly increased since 2008. Interestingly this contradicts similar research conducted by The Center Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has created even more confusion within media circles.
Reps for the Mayo Clinic claim their investigation began because of skepticism. Ultimately, they wanted to validate whether the CDC’s “encouraging” findings about reduced prescriptions were actually true.
“We wanted to know how the declines were experienced by individual people,” lead study author Molly Jeffery, Ph.D., told Forbes in a statement. “Did fewer people have opioid prescriptions? Did people taking opioids take less over time? When we looked at it that way, we found a different picture.”
So, Dr. Jeffery and her associates began digging into anonymous insurance claims data obtained from OptumLabs. When zeroing in on people covered by Medicare Advantage plans, they were able to determine that these patients were taking an average daily opioid dose that equated to nine 5-milligram oxycodone pills in 2012. Last year, that dosage declined only slightly to eight pills (a very small difference, if you ask us). And more than 51% of disabled Medicare beneficiaries per year were using opioids, compared to 14% of people on commercial insurance plans and 26% of non-disabled Medicare patients. So despite the press and presidential declarations, this true change in opioid prescriptions is minimal at best.
In conclusion, the authors did understand that painkillers serve a positive purpose (in theory). But doctors doling out prescription after prescription should really take a step back and evaluate when they are truly necessary.
“What can doctors do to help change the course of opioid use in the U.S.?” Dr. Jeffery concluded. “They should think seriously about whether long-term opioid use by any patient is really improving his or her ability to function. If it isn’t, they should look seriously at other pain-management options.”