Will Fewer Opioid Prescriptions Actually Help Curb the Crisis?
One idea that has been floated of late in an effort to curb the current opioid epidemic in the US is the notion of restricting the freedom of physicians to prescribe opioids as painkillers. The question that is being raised is whether fewer opioid prescriptions will actually help curb the current crisis.
Even though restrictions have yet to be put in place nationwide, statistics show that the amount of first-time prescriptions to patients who need help with pain management is on the way down anyway (from 114,000 per annum to 80,500 per annum between 2012 and 2017), but there have not yet been any real signs that this is helping to ease the crisis.
Around Seventy Percent of Drug Overdose Deaths in the US are Due to Opioids
In 2017, just over 70,000 Americans died as a result of drug overdoses, which represents a 9.6 percent increase from 2016. Around 68 percent of those deaths in 2017 were deemed to be as a result of opioid misuse.
Nicole Maestas, who is an associate professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, is one of the voices saying that reducing the availability of prescribed opioids will help address the crisis. “You’d have fewer leftover pills sitting in medicine cabinets around the country where they could be accessed for non-medical use,” she said.
There is a Fear That Restrictions on Opioid Prescriptions Will Encourage More ‘Doctor Shopping’
Despite this drop, there are fears that fewer opioid prescriptions will simply see an increase in ‘doctor shopping’ where opioid addicts travel around their local area and even beyond state boundaries in order to find a doctor willing to prescribe opioids to them. Without legal national guidelines, there will always be doctors who are willing to bend the rules. Despite the current crisis, there remain physicians who have not changed their behavior at all and are still prescribing aggressively.
Said Maestes: “We’re cautiously optimistic that providers are changing their behavior, but we really do have quite a ways to go. Until we see overdose mortality come down, we can’t say we’ve figured this out.”
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