The amount of opioid painkillers prescribed in the United States decreased in most parts of the country from a peak in 2010 through 2015, including in much of Western New York.
However, a new report shows prescription rates remain high in many counties and vary widely across the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Niagara County saw a decline in opioid prescribing, for instance, but the prescription rate remains among those considered high nationwide.
"The bottom line is that too many are still getting too much for too long," Anne Schuchat, the CDC's acting director, said Thursday.
The high amount of opioids prescribed is continuing to drive drug overdoses and drug overdose deaths, she said.
Annual opioid prescribing rates increased from 72.4 to 81.2 prescriptions per 100 persons from 2006 to 2010, were constant from 2010 to 2012, and then decreased by 13.1 percent to 70.6 per 100 persons from 2012 to 2015, the report found.
Doctors are also prescribing high doses of opioids less often. High-dose prescribing declined 41 percent, from 11.4 per 100 people to 6.7 per 100 people, the CDC reported.
The CDC also found that the amount of opioids prescribed decreased 18 percent, from a peak of 782 morphine milligram equivalents per capita in 2010 to 640 morphine milligram equivalents in 2015. A morphine milligram equivalent is the measure commonly used to compare dosage amounts of the numerous opioid painkillers used by physicians.
The average per capita amounts prescribed in the top-prescribing counties were about six times the amounts prescribed in the lowest prescribing counties in 2015. Higher amounts of opioids were prescribed in counties with a larger percentage of non-Hispanic whites, small cities and large towns, areas with high rates of diabetes and arthritis, and higher rates of unemployment and Medicaid enrollment.
Despite the overall decline in prescribing of such drugs as oxycodone, Schuchat noted several worrisome trends.
The length of prescriptions increased from an average of 13 days in 2006 to 18 days in 2015. The longer a person is on a potentially addictive drug, the greater the risk of addiction, she said.
In addition, doctors in the U.S., as of 2015, were still prescribing three times as many opioids as they were in 1999 and nearly four times more than their European counterparts, according to the CDC.
CDC in 2016 issued new opioid prescribing guidelines for doctors, but it's unclear what influence they have had. Schuchat said the latest data will serve as a baseline for comparisons.