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Editorial: Some progress, but long way to go on painkiller use

The Herald-Dispatch editorial

Some areas of our region are making great strides in reducing opioid prescription rates.

Others, not so much.

But at least concerned health officials are tracking the nation’s progress on this critical issue, and we can see some progress.

The report estimates that prescriptions reached their peak in 2010, when doctors prescribed the equivalent of 782 milligrams of morphine per person.

As the nation began to reel from widespread pain-pill addiction and the related increase in heroin use, the health-care industry and state governments took action to tighten up opioid prescriptions with better tracking and monitoring of potential pill mills and other abuse. By 2015, the prescription rate nationally had dropped to 640 milligrams of morphine per person.

But that is still three times the volume recorded in 1999.

County-by-county figures show that some areas have done much better than that. In Cabell County, where a surge in addiction and overdose deaths prompted a broad community-wide focus, the prescription rate dropped more than 40 percent between 2010 and 2015.

Equally disturbing is that some counties, such as Ritchie and Wirt, which had very low rates in 2010, have actually seen increases in opioid use over the years.

Sadly, the continued high rates of opioid use do not bode well for the future. Although the prescription rates went down between 2010 and 2015, overdose deaths rose to more than 52,000 Americans in 2015 – an all-time record. In many areas, those death rates continue to rise.

So, while there has been important progress, the nation and our region have a long, long way to go in getting opioid addiction under control.

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