CDC’s opioid epidemic update: fewer but longer prescriptions

According to the CDC’s latest Vital Signs report, the number of opioid prescriptions has decreased each year since 2010 through 2015 in half of US counties. But prescription rates vary broadly by county, with six times more opioids prescribed per resident in the highest-prescribing counties compared to the lowest-prescribing counties. Some counties have morphine milligram equivalents (MME) as high as 5,543 per person.

“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 Anne Schuchat, M.D., acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Healthcare providers have an important role in offering safer and more effective pain management while reducing risks of opioid addiction and overdose.”

Despite the inconsistency across counties, the national average daily MME per prescription has continued to decrease since 2006, then at 59.7 MME, down to 48.1 MME in 2015. A dose of 50 MME or more a day doubles the risk of overdose death.

While MMEs have decreased, the national average day supply per prescription has increased since 2006, up from 13.3 days to 17.7 days in 2015. Regardless of dose, taking opioids for more than 3 months increases the risk of addiction by 15 times.

Nationally, there was an increase in the drug overdose death rate from 2014 to 2015. Twenty-five states saw increases over 10 percent. Six states saw increase over 25 percent:

  • North Dakota: 36.5%
  • Massachusetts: 35.5%
  • District of Columbia: 31%
  • New Hampshire: 30.9%
  • Maine: 26.2%
  • Connecticut: 25.6%

Only nine states saw a decrease in their overdose death rate from 2014 to 2015:

  • Missouri: -1.6%
  • Texas: -3.1%
  • Nebraska: -4.2%
  • Alaska: -4.8%
  • Colorado: -5.5%
  • Oregon: -6.3%
  • Oklahoma: -6.4%
  • New Mexico: -7.3%
  • Wyoming: -15.5%

From 2013 to 2014, twelve states saw a decrease in the overdose death rate and twenty-two states saw increases over 10 percent.