Moderation best in prescribing painkillers

An editorial from The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — According to various agencies that monitor such things, West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio have taken many positive steps to counteract the abuse of prescription drugs within their borders.

All have a prescription drug monitoring program in place. All have laws against “doctor shopping” by those who go from physician to physician seeking powerful painkillers to abuse and/or sell. Each has a requirement that doctors physically examine patients or have a bona fide patient-physician relationship before prescribing a controlled substance.

Yet all have among the highest drug overdose death rates in the country, with West Virginia ranking first and Kentucky and Ohio coming in at third and 12th, respectively. Why the contradiction?

One factor may be the large volume of opioid painkillers prescribed by health care providers in those states, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The agency found that health care providers across the country wrote 259 million prescriptions for such painkillers in 2012. For context purposes, that’s enough for every adult in the country to have a bottle of pills.

However, the rate of such prescriptions based on population ranges widely from state to state, with the lowest (Hawaii) having only 52 prescriptions per 100 people. Contrast that with West Virginia, which had the third highest number of prescriptions, at 138 written per 100 people. Kentucky ranked fourth highest (128 prescriptions per 100 people) and Ohio placed 12th (100 prescriptions per 100 people).

The rankings of our three states mirror closely where they place in overdose death rates…

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