Raw Data: Opioid Prescriptions in the United States

As we all know, opioids are overprescribed in the US and there’s been a big push for many years to cut back. So how are we doing? Are doctors limiting opioids too much? Here’s some data from a recent JAMA article, “Trends and Patterns of Geographic Variation in Opioid Prescribing Practices.” First, the total number of opioid prescriptions:

Opioid prescriptions are down 25 percent since their peak in 2012. That’s fairly substantial. However, although the average strength of each prescription (measured in the equivalent of milligrams of morphine) has stayed roughly constant, the average length of an opioid prescription has been getting steadily longer. This means that the reduction in prescriptions isn’t quite as large as it seems at first glance:

This is down 16 percent since the 2012 peak. The number of prescriptions for less than three days has declined while the number for more than 30 days has increased. Here’s the same information by state:

More than half of the decline in opioid prescriptions came in a single year, 2017, and we don’t have figures for 2018 yet. If it shows another steep drop, it will suggest that we really have cut way back on opioid prescriptions.


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