Prescription Opioid Use Plummeted Most on Record Last Year

(Bloomberg) -- The volume of opioids prescribed in the U.S. fell 17% last year, the most in more than a quarter-century, as doctors have become increasingly cautious about giving out large amounts of the drugs amid an epidemic of abuse.

  • Opioid prescriptions are down 43% overall since their 2011 peak, according to a broad report published Thursday by IQVIA Holdings Inc., a health research firm that sells its services to drug companies. The report looks at the active opioid ingredient dispensed, after adjusting for how potent the various drugs are.

Key Insights

  • The good news about falling prescription opioid use masks a grim reality: Many people who are addicted to opioids switch from prescription drugs to heroin or illegal synthetic versions. Overdose deaths have been on the rise, driven by heroin and synthetics, and reached 47,600 in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • The volume of opioid pills being dispensed is still huge. On average, there were enough opioid pills prescribed last year to give every adult in the U.S. the equivalent of 34 pills. That’s down from the equivalent of 72 pills per adult in 2011.
  • New state regulations that limit opioid prescribing and federal guidelines that recommend avoiding high doses are propelling the decrease, said Michael Kleinrock, research director for the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, in an interview.
  • Other data this year show a similar trend: The number of opioid units dispensed in March fell 17% compared with a year prior, according to information compiled by Symphony Health Solutions.

Know More

  • The report also looked at prescription trends more broadly. Overall U.S. drug spending rose 4.5% to $344 billion, the report found, after estimated drug manufacturer discounts were taken into account.
  • Much of the spending growth was driven by increased use of newer specialty drugs, such as medicines for autoimmune diseases and cancer. After rebates were factored in, manufacturer prices for brand drugs rose just 0.3%, the report found.

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