Powerful painkillers are a contributing factor in the the rising rate of overdose deaths in the U.S., especially in Kentucky, where officials have recommended more measures be taken to monitor painkiller prescriptions. Now the government is pointing out the states whose doctors write the most prescriptions, and Kentucky ranks fourth, Mike Stobbe reports for The Associated Press.
The reports are part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s campaign to prevent deaths from prescription opioids such as Vicodin and OxyContin. Drug overdose deaths reached 41,000 in 2011, and 41 percent of them had to do with prescription painkillers. “The state account comes from a database of U.S. retail pharmacies that fill the bulk of prescriptions,” Stobbe writes.
In 2012, Southern states led the list. Kentucky ranked behind Alabama, which had 143 prescriptions for every 100 people; Tennessee, and West Virginia. Southern doctors also prescribed the most antibiotics and stimulants for children. Although chronic disease rates are often higher in the South, research has shown that doesn’t explain the disparity.
“Prescriptions go up; deaths go up. Prescriptions go down; deaths go down,” said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. However, evidence to confirm the connection is lacking. The CDC keeps track of death rates but combines all drug overdoses, including heroin and cocaine. Those rankings are not the same as the prescription list. “But officials cite studies that show higher overdose rates when there are more prescriptions of painkillers and larger doses prescribed,” Stobbe writes.
To help fix the problem, officials suggest more prescription drug monitoring programs at the state level and laws to stop “pill mills,” which are offices and clinics that prescribe too many addictive medicines. In Florida, pill mills became a big issue in the last 10 years, but from 2010-2011, the state set up stricter pain clinic regulations, and police did some raids. “By 2012, prescriptions for oxycodone alone fell 24 percent, and the death rate for prescription drug overdoses dropped 23 percent,” Stobbe writes.