America’s prescription painkiller epidemic hasn’t hit all states equally.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention has released a new report that breaks down prescription painkiller prescribing by state.
As this map shows, the South prescribes these drugs at rates that are staggeringly higher than other parts of the country:
What’s particularly concerning is the fact that several states in the South average more than one painkiller prescription per person.
This infographic gives a more specific look at the numbers:
Many states fall into the 60-80 prescriptions per 100 people range. Nearly all of the states grouped into the two highest ranges are in the South.
States across the U.S. have been cracking down on “pill mills” that prescribe painkillers improperly in recent years, but it’s clear there’s still much work left to be done.
The number of painkiller prescriptions in the South is so high that it can’t be explained by variations in medical conditions around the country, the CDC notes. Moreover, this high rate of painkiller use can lead to greater risks of overdose and abuse, according to the CDC. And it’s not just painkillers. The South has also been shown to prescribe other drugs in higher rates compared to other areas of the country.
The wide variation in prescribing practices can be partly attributed to a lack of consensus on how painkillers should be used to treat chronic pain that isn’t cancer-related, the CDC notes. For example, South Carolina’s Office of the Inspector General released a report last year noting that the state doesn’t have consistent standards for prescribing.
Florida, however, is an outlier compared to its neighbours. The state used to be known for its pill mills until the state cracked down on such clinics. Opioid deaths declined in the two years since the crackdown began.
Other states have successfully cracked down on painkiller prescribing as well:
On the other side of the painkiller debate are the patients who have a legitimate need for them. As Bloomberg noted last year, new laws cracking down on painkillers have have made it harder for some Florida patients with chronic pain conditions to get the medication they need to manage their pain.
Painkillers can help those with chronic pain lead productive lives, but the pills are also very susceptible to abuse. People can get addicted to the pills even when they have a legitimate prescription for them, and the increased use of painkillers has been linked to a rise in heroin abuse across the country.
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