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Painkiller prescription rates vary greatly among U.S. states

Every day, the CDC says, 46 people in the U.S. die from painkiller overdoses.
By Brooks Hays   |   July 1, 2014 at 4:01 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, July 1 (UPI) -- A new study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows people in some states swallow quite a few more pain pills than others.

In 2012, doctors prescribed Americans 259 million bottles of painkillers -- a dangerous and highly addictive class of drugs that includes brand names like Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin.

The total number of pain pill prescriptions is enough give every adult in the United States their own bottle. But as the new CDC report points out, residents of some states were more likely to get a prescription than others.

Doctors in Alabama, where prescription rates are highest, wrote nearly three times as many painkiller prescriptions per person as physicians in Hawaii, where rates are lowest.

"We don't think it's because people in some states have more pain than people in other states," said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden. "One thing we want to see is more effective state monitoring programs."

States in the Southeast occupied most of the top ten spots on the list of places with the highest painkiller prescription rates. High rates were also measured in some states farther to the north, including West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan.

Where high rates of painkiller prescriptions are found, addiction and overdose problems usually follow. Every day, the CDC says, 46 people in the U.S. die from painkiller overdoses.

"Overdoses from opioid narcotics are a serious problem across the country and we know opioid overdoses tend to be highest where opioids get the highest use," explained Frieden.

One state in the Southeast has helped reverse overdose rates by enacting stricter prescription monitoring regulations -- Florida. In 2012, the Sunshine State passed a law to rein in "pill mills" and subsequently cut overdose deaths by some 17 percent. New York passed a similar law the same year, requiring doctors to check a database of past prescriptions before giving a patient more drugs. According to the CDC, a 75 percent drop in patients "doctor shopping" followed.

CDC officials would like to see lawmakers and regulators from other states follow suit.

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