The increase in overdoses from prescription painkillers has been called a national epidemic. New information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows it’s more of a problem in some areas of the country than in others.
The top 5 states and their number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people in 2012:
- Alabama, 143
- Tennessee, 143
- West Virginia, 138
- Kentucky, 128, and
- Oklahoma, 128.
The 5 states with the lowest number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people:
- Hawaii, 52
- California, 57
- New York, 60
- Minnesota, 62, and
- New Jersey, 63.
These are significant differences. The rate in Alabama and Tennessee are both almost three times that of Hawaii.
What makes the difference? Some states report problems with for-profit, high-volume pain clinics, so-called “pill mills.”
Higher prescribing of painkillers is associated with more overdose deaths.
States take action
A separate report from the CDC shows one state has had success in decreasing overdose deaths.
Florida enacted a number of policy changes from 2010 to 2012:
- Clinics treating pain with controlled substances had to register with the state by Jan. 4, 2010
- Pain clinic regulations were further expanded later in 2010
- In February 2011, law enforcement conducted statewide raids resulting in numerous pain clinic closures
- In July 2011, the state prohibited physician dispensing of schedule II or III drugs from their offices
- Mandatory dispenser reporting to the newly established prescription drug monitoring program began in September 2011, and
- In 2012, the state expanded regulation of wholesale drug distributors.
Result: The number of high-volume oxycodone dispensing prescribers in Florida declined from 98 in 2010 to 13 in 2012 to zero in 2013.
And when prescribing rates for prescription painkillers decreased in Florida, drug overdose deaths fell, too.
The state’s number of painkiller prescriptions per 100 people was 73 in 2012, putting it in the 16 lowest in the nation.
From 2003-2009, the number of deaths caused by drug overdose in Florida increased 61% from 1,804 to 2,905. From 2010 to 2012, that number fell 17.7% from 3,201 to 2,666.
Prescription drug related deaths in the state peaked in 2010 at 2,722 and fell to 2,116 in 2012.
Two other states that have had positive results:
- In 2012, New York required prescribers to check the prescription drug monitoring program before prescribing painkillers. The following year, New York had a 75% drop in patients who were seeing multiple prescribers to obtain the same drugs – a factor that increases the risk of overdose.
- In 2012, Tennessee took the same measure as described for New York. In 2013, Tennessee had a 36% drop in patients who were seeing multiple prescribers.
The number of states with pain clinic laws increased from 3 in 2010 to 11 in 2013. The CDC recommends more states consider use of prescription drug monitoring programs with state-run databases.
Why is this important to employers? Workers who abuse prescription painkillers:
- are a safety risk to themselves and others
- are more likely to file workers’ comp and disability claims
- have higher healthcare expenses
- are absent more often, and
- have lower productivity.