10% of patients prescribed 76% of opioids, study finds

The concentration of opioid use among a minority of patients has intensified since 2001, with 76 percent of opioid prescriptions written for 10 percent of patients in 2013, according to an analysis of pharmacy data published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

To assess the distribution of opioids across the population, researchers from Stanford (Calif.) University analyzed pharmacy data for about 20 million privately insured adults without cancer who filled at least one opioid prescription from 2001 to 2013.

Analysis revealed 69 percent of opioid prescriptions in 2001 went to 10 percent of patients and 55 percent of these prescriptions went to 5 percent of patients. In 2013, 76 percent of opioid prescriptions went to 10 percent of patients and 59 percent of opioid prescriptions went to 5 percent of users.

Eric Sun, MD, PhD, one of the study's authors and an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Stanford, said the study's findings suggest recent measures placing widespread restrictions on opioid prescribing may not be the best strategy to limit opioid misuse, according to The Mercury News.

"For most people, those policies are not all that useful," Dr. Sun said. Instead, he believes the U.S. should adopt targeted measures focusing on reducing opioid misuse among the people who use them the most.   

More articles on opioids: 
Gallup: Most Americans don't want prescriptions for pain 
Study: Opioid use linked to 20% of overall decline in male labor force 
3 quotes from Dr. Atul Gawande on the role of physicians in the opioid epidemic

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