Prescriptions of the drugs that fuelled the overdose crisis are dropping around the US

  • Opioid prescriptions are continuing to drop in the US, falling about 12% between 2016 and 2017.
  • That’s according to new data from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, which tracks medication use and spending in the US.
  • The use of medication assisted therapy to treat addiction has almost doubled during the same period.

Prescriptions of opioids are starting to fall across the country.

Opioid prescriptions were down about 12% between 2016 and 2017, according to new data from the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, which tracks medication use and spending in the US.

Opioid prescriptions peaked in 2011, when 240 billion milligrams of morphine equivalents (a measure that helps in comparing opioids like oxycodone, hydromorphone, and fentanyl, which have different potencies) were prescribed. Now, that number is down to 171 billion. In particular, higher-dose prescriptions that were above 90 morphine milligram equivalents dropped, down 16% in the last year.

At the same time prescriptions of opioids are falling, the use of medication-assisted treatment, in which prescription medication is used alongside psychological therapy to help those living with addiction, has almost doubled during the same time period. About 44,000 people a month were getting on MAT in the beginning of 2016, compared to 82,000 a month at the end of 2017.

“Clearly there’s greater use of these therapies in treating those with opioid addiction,” Murray Aitken, the executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science told Business Insider.

This is the first time the company’s report has highlighted data about opioid painkillers, and it’s in response to the national attention the crisis has received. President Donald Trump last year declared the opioid epidemic a public-health emergency, escalating the amount of attention and funding that can go toward addressing the issue.

Between 1999 and 2016, more than 200,000 people in the USdied from overdoses related to prescription opioids. It’s something hospitals and health plans are trying to confront through cutting back on prescriptions.

In March, Cigna said it had cut its opioid use by 25% since 2016. In 2016, Cigna committed to lowering opioid use among its customers by 25% over three years. The health insurer had previously said it will no longer cover OxyContin, the branded version of the painkiller oxycodone. Cigna still covers generic oxycodone alternatives to OxyContin.

Last August, Intermountain Health, a health plan and a hospital that operates in Utah and southern Idaho said it plans to cut the number of opioid pills it prescribes by 5 million.

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