AMA report shows drop in opioid prescriptions alongside increasing drug-related deaths


Ethan Kispert


The American Medical Association (AMA) released a report last week showing a drop in opioid prescriptions nationwide. According to the report, there was a 44.4% drop in opioid prescriptions nationwide from 2011 to 2020. This time frame represented a drop from 257.9 million prescriptions to 143.4 million prescriptions. 


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Deaths from drug overdoses, however, have been on the rise. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there were 95,133 drug overdose deaths up to February 2021 (for a cumulative 12-month period). This number was up from February 2020 when there were 73,344 total deaths. These numbers have been on a constant upward trend since 2015, where February’s numbers were at 47,725. 

Arizona’s numbers tell a similar tale. According to the CDC, between February 2020 and February 2021, the state saw a total of 2,690 deaths due to drug overdose. This number was up from 2,064 deaths a year earlier and from 1,175 deaths in February 2015. 

The CDC data for Arizona shows a correlation between the initial months of the pandemic and a significant rise in drug overdose deaths. From April to August of 2020, there was a 21% rise in overdose deaths. This is compared to just a 4% increase for the same months in 2019. 

As drug overdose deaths continue to rise in the state, the number of opioid prescriptions remains low. According to the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Institute on Drug Abuse, Arizona providers wrote opioid prescriptions at a rate of 50.7 for every 100 people in 2018. A rate that was lower than the national average of 51.4 for the time. According to the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA), opioid prescriptions in the state have also decreased by 46.1% from 2011 to 2020. 

To help address the situation, ArMA and AMA are urging policymakers to help remove restrictions for patients’ access to evidence-based care. 

“Arizona physicians took action doing what was necessary to reduce opioid prescribing to significantly impact this epidemic,” stated Miriam Anand, MD, ArMA President. “ArMA realized the importance of physician involvement early on and participated as key stakeholders during the 2018 opioid special session called by Governor Doug Ducey.”

Illicit activities have been a primary driver in these opioid deaths. According to AMA, the state continues to see an increase in overdoses from illicit drugs such as fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine, and cocaine.