Healthcare providers wrote Americans 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012 with rates varying greatly among states, according to a government report.
Southern states had the country's highest number of prescriptions per person written for opioid drugs in 2012, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's
latest Vital Signs
report released Tuesday. Ten of the highest prescribing states are in that region.
Tennessee and Alabama had the highest prescription rates in the country; health providers in those states wrote 143 prescriptions for every 100 people. Those rates were nearly three times higher than the state with the lowest prescribing rate, Hawaii, which had 52 prescriptions written in 2012 for every 100 people.
“Overdoses from opioid narcotics are a serious problem across the country, and we know that overdose deaths tend to be higher where opioids get heavier use,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said in a briefing with reporters Tuesday. “Prescription opioids can be an important tool for doctors to use, and some conditions are best treated with opioids, but they are not the answer every time someone has pain.”
States in the northeast were found to have the highest rates of prescriptions per person written for high-dosage painkillers, with Delaware leading the nation at 8.8 prescriptions for every 100 people.
Overall, Frieden said the number of prescriptions written in the U.S. for opioid painkillers was enough to supply every American with a bottle of pills.
The wide variation in painkiller distribution among states could not be explained by a correlating difference in the health status of patients, according to the report.
The report did highlight the success of some states toward reducing the rate of opioid use and overdoses as a result. Most notable were the efforts achieved in Florida
, where the overdose death rate from oxycodone fell by 52% between 2010 and 2012 after the state began prohibiting doctors from dispensing prescription painkillers from their offices.
Decreases in opioid use and overdose deaths also were attributed to increased regulation of pain clinics, where some have been known to prescribe large quantities of painkillers to patients, though they may not need them medically, all of which were credited with decreasing the overall number of overdose deaths from prescription drugs by 23% during that time.
The CDC has reported opioid painkiller use has been steadily increasing over the past decade, which has led to a stark rise in the number of overdose deaths from those drugs during the same time, from 4,000 in 1999 to more than 16,000 by 2010. Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson