Dangerous Trend? Doctors Writing Fewer Opioid Prescriptions, But Not Offering More Medication For Opioid Addiction Treatment
Athenahealth, an electronic health record vendor, examined data from over two million patient visits from 2014-2017 and found that doctors are writing prescriptions for opioids to fewer patients, but are being more reserved about prescribing drugs to treat opioid addiction.
Although prescription painkiller abuse and overdose deaths have increased over the last few years, investigators discovered that prescriptions written by both primary care doctors and surgeons for opioids have also been on a steady decline.
Josh Gray, vice president of athenaResearch:
“We’ve seen doctor prescribing patterns decreasing. It’s been particularly notable…that orthopedic surgeons and primary care physicians have seen reductions.”
However, Gray is concerned that doctors are taking opioids away from dependent patients, and noticed that prescriptions for medication for opioid addiction treatment, such as buprenorphine, have barely increased. These medications can effectively reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
“If you’re a doctor and you’re reducing the frequency with which you give patients opioids, some of those patients might be dependent. You’d like to think that at least the healthcare system would be offering medication-assisted treatment to patients that are dealing with dependence or active addiction.”
“It’s not that hard to procure opioids illegally. So, patients…then go to other sources that aren’t medically supervised, which is incredibly dangerous.”
In 2015 alone, more than 33,000 people in the U.S. died from overdoses related to prescription painkillers, heroin, or fentanyl, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, an estimated two million are currently addicted to painkillers, and 3 of 4 new heroin users state they began using the drug after first becoming addicted to prescription opioids, such as oxycodone.
And according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report 2016, there were one million heroin users in 2014, a number that tripled since 2003.
Since the turn of the century, over 300,000 Americans have died from an opioid-related overdose.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology
Health Data Management