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Analysis of opioid prescription practices finds areas of concern
Date:4/5/2011

the United States during 2009, which represent almost 40 percent of all the opioid prescriptions filled nationwide. They broke down the prescriptions by physician specialty, patient's age, duration of prescription, and whether or not the patient had previously filled a prescription for an opioid analgesic within the past 30 days. The researchers looked at prescribing practices for younger patients, who are more at risk than older adults for opioid abuse and later addiction.

The records show that approximately 56 percent of painkiller prescriptions were given to patients who had filled another prescription for pain from the same or different providers within the past month. In addition, nearly 12 percent of opioids prescribed were to young people aged 10-29. Most of these were hydrocodone- and oxycodone-containing products, like Vicodin and Oxycontin. Dentists were the main prescribers for youth aged 10-19 years old. Nearly 46 percent of opioid prescriptions were given to patients between ages 40 and 59, and most of those were from primary care providers.

The current issue of JAMA also includes an accompanying commentary from Dr. Volkow and Dr. Thomas McLellan of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. They point out that according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, prescription opioid overdose is now the second leading cause of accidental death in the United States, killing more people than heroin and cocaine combined. They also state that this is compelling evidence for the need to develop smart strategies to curtail abuse of opioid analgesics, without jeopardizing pain treatment.

The analysis can inform policy makers wanting to implement systems to reduce opioid abuse. Already many states are looking at prescription drug monitoring programs that will give physicians access to information on prescriptions previously received by their patients.


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