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Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have dropped since 2010 in the United States, but the number of Americans getting the highly addictive medications is still too high, a new report shows.

In a statement, Patrice A. Harris, head of the American Medical Association's opioid task force, said she was pleased to see the report confirm that physicians have been making "more judicious" prescribing decisions.

"The findings suggest that we need more consistency among health care providers for prescribing".

"We saw higher opioid prescribing in counties with small cities or towns", Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the CDC, said on Thursday. It is the responsibility of the healthcare providers to provide effective as well as safer pain management to all patients she emphasized.

For the study, CDC researchers analyzed changes in annual prescribing practices from 2006 to 2015 and found a steady decline in the strength of opioids. The state has the highest rate of opioid prescribing in the country.

Some of the trends revealed by the data are encouraging, while others are troubling. Duration of opioid prescription has been linked as directly correlated with addition liability to these drugs.

Overall, in 2015, Oklahoma saw an average of almost two unintentional poisoning deaths per day, and the majority of those deaths were drug overdoses caused by prescription drugs, said Avy Redus, who coordinates opioid-related projects at the state health department. This is a 33% rise. However, the number of prescriptions in 2015 was three times higher than in 1999 and four times higher than opioid prescription rates in Europe.

Darker colors on the map show counties with higher levels of morphine milligram equivalents (MME) prescribed per person. In 2015, six times more opioids per resident were dispensed in the highest-prescribing counties than in the lowest-prescribing ones.

Dr. Anne Schuchat said opioids are prescribed
Dr. Anne Schuchat said opioids are prescribed"for too many days at too high a dosage

The counties with the highest levels of prescriptions tended to have larger white populations, higher rates of unemployment and greater numbers enrolled in Medicaid.

The CDC is looking into how much it would help if less people were being prescribed heavy pain killers.

Still, those factors only explain about a third of the variation among counties, Schuchat said.

The report suggests the nation's health care providers already were making headway against the over-prescribing of opioids before the CDC issued new guidelines previous year on opioids prescriptions. Overall, the investigators found that 92% of handwritten prescriptions either failed to meet ideal practice standards, contained such errors as the absence of at least two patient identifiers or failed to comply with federal opioid prescription rules.

Opioids were once used to treat severe pain, post surgical pain and in end-of-life care.

The country's overdose epidemic, with the highest death rates ever recorded, is driven by opioid use, both prescription painkillers and heroin. And although just less than 7% of all prescriptions exceed a month's dosage, using for 31 days or more increased the chances of long-term opioid use to 29.9%. Behavioral and physical therapy and NSAIDs should be first choices.

The Appalachian Mountains remain the region hardest hit by the opioid epidemic, Schuchat said, but she added that "no part of the country is spared".


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