Significant Decline in U.S. Opioid Prescribing

Significant Decline in U.S. Opioid Prescribing — Pain News Network – April 15, 2016

Nearly 17 million fewer prescriptions were filled for opioid pain medications in the U.S. in 2015, driven largely by a significant decline in prescriptions for hydrocodone, according to a new report by IMS Health.

This decline was *before* the CDC guidelines were issued.

The report adds further evidence that the so-called “epidemic” of opioid abuse and addiction is increasingly being fueled by illegal opioids such as heroin and illicit fentanyl, not by prescription pain medication intended for patients.  

Yet it will be impossible to turn around all the anti-medical-opioid people and legislation that have been pushing pain patients away from their pain relief and into increasing misery.

“It is not surprising that we have seen a dramatic drop in hydrocodone prescribing,” said Lynn Webster, MD, past president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and vice president of scientific affairs at PRA Health Sciences.

Patients are being told they are not going to be prescribed opioids in general by many physicians. Since hydrocodone has been the most prescribed, it is the most affected. Schedule II opioids are more of a hassle so prescribers shun away from them.

“What is most striking is that the number of unintentional overdoses are still climbing despite fewer pills being prescribed.  Obviously this is a reflection that the goal to reduce harm from reduced prescribing is not working.  We have to wait to see if that trend continues.”

This is not surprising to many of us who always knew the overdoses were not linked to our legitimate pain medication. We tried to communicate that to the rule-makers but were ignored.

The “recovery industry” must be salivating at the coming surge of patients forced off their pain relievers for no good reason.

For several years hydrocodone was the #1 most widely filled prescription in the U.S. It now ranks third behind levothyroxine (Synthroid), which is used to treat thyroid deficiency, and lisinopril (Zestril), which is used to treat high blood pressure.

“Over 16.6 million fewer prescriptions were filled for narcotic analgesics, driven mainly by a sharp decrease in prescriptions for acetaminophen-hydrocodone, whereas prescriptions for oxymorphone, another controlled substance, increased 5.3%,” the IMS report said.

Oxymorphone is the generic name for Opana, a semisynthetic opioid that is also abused by drug addicts.

The IMS report also found an increasing number of prescriptions being written for gabapentin (Neurontin), a medication originally developed to treat seizures that is now widely prescribed for neuropathy and other chronic pain conditions.  About 57 million prescriptions were written for gabapentin in 2015, a 42% increase since 2011.

After steadily increasing for several years, the number of prescriptions for tramadol appears to have leveled off, according to IMS. Last year about 43 million prescriptions were written for tramadol, a weaker acting opioid also used to treat chronic pain.   

Overall spending in prescription drugs reached $310 billion in 2015, according to IMS, a 8.5% increase largely fueled by expensive new brand name and specialty drugs.   

This is another problem for pain patients. All the great new pain medications that finally come to market will be prohibitively expensive, meaning insurance companies will be reluctant to pay for them.

Most of us won’t be able to afford any of these newfangled drugs until generic versions come out, 17 years later when their exclusive patent rights expire.



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