Opioid Scripts Down, But Anti-Addiction Meds Up

April 20, 2018 -- Prescriptions for opioid painkillers are declining in the United States while prescriptions for medications to treat opioid addiction are on the rise, new data show.

Prescriptions for opioid painkillers fell 10 percent last year, and new monthly prescriptions for the drugs fell by 7.8 percent, according to the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, which studies prescription drug use and spending, The New York Times reported.

The number of people in the U.S. who received new prescriptions for medications to treat opioid addiction nearly doubled during 2017, from 42,000 to 82,000 per month.

The decline in opioid prescriptions and increase in opioid addiction medication prescriptions reflects increased efforts to combat the nation's opioid epidemic, which claims 115 lives a day, The Times reported.

For example, there are new insurance company policies and state laws that limit opioid prescribing.

"I think the message is we are seeing measurable impact from all that's going on," Murray Aitken, executive director of the IQVIA Institute, told The Times. "These numbers don't tell you what exactly is driving the acceleration in the drop, but we think it's useful to get the 2017 numbers out there so people can see what's happening."

The report said that prescription opioid volumes reached their peak in 2011 at the equivalent of 240 billion milligrams of morphine. That fell by 29 percent to 171 billion in 2017, but that was still enough for every American adult to have 52 pills, "a fivefold higher level than in 1992," Aitken said.