OD deaths persist despite drop in opioid prescriptions, AMA says

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Opioid prescriptions fell 44.4 percent in the last decade, but the number of drug-related overdoses and deaths continued to increase, according to a report from the American Medical Association released Sept. 21. 

A CDC report released in July found that deaths from drug overdoses hit a record 93,000 in 2020, nearly a 30 percent jump from the prior year. 

Five findings from the AMA report: 

  1. The AMA found a 44.4 percent decrease in opioid prescribing nationwide between 2011 and 2020, with a 6.9 percent decrease in prescriptions occurring between 2019 and 2020.

  2. Physicians and other providers used state prescription drug-monitoring programs more than 910 million times in 2020, up from about 750 million times in 2019. Prescription drug-monitoring programs are electronic databases that track controlled substance prescriptions and help identify patients who may be receiving multiple prescriptions from multiple prescribers.

  3. More than 104,000 physicians now have an X-waiver that allows them to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid use disorder, an increase of 70,000 providers since 2017. But, 80 percent to 90 percent of people with substance use disorder receive no treatment.

  4. Overdose deaths today are mainly due to illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine and cocaine.

  5. The AMA is urging policymakers to take steps to reduce mortality and improve patient outcomes by removing barriers to evidence-based care. One such action the AMA is urging is for policymakers to stop requiring physicians to obtain prior authorization for medications that treat opioid use disorder.

    "The nation's drug overdose and death epidemic has never just been about prescription opioids. Physicians have become more cautious about prescribing opioids, are trained to treat opioid use disorder and support evidence-based harm reduction strategies," Gerald Harmon, MD, president of the AMA, said in a news release. "Patients need policymakers, health insurance plans, national pharmacy chains and other stakeholders to change their focus and help us remove barriers to evidence-based care."

Find the AMA's full report here

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