April 19 (UPI) -- Prescription opioid dosage volume declined 12 percent in 2017, the largest annual drop in more than 25 years of measurement, according to a report released Thursday by a healthcare consulting company.
IQVIA's Institute for Human Data Science conducted the study examining last year's overall drug use and looked forward four years to 2022.
The opioid prescription volume includes the number of pills dispensed as well as units of dosage.
The number of dispensed opioid prescriptions decreased 10.2 percent and patients receiving high doses declined by 16.1 percent, researchers report. The dosage volume is determined by Morphine Milligram Equivalents, with a standard Vicodin pill the equivalent of 5 milligrams of morphine. A high dosage in the study was considered to be more than 90 MME's a day.
IQVIA reports that opioid prescriptions increased annually since 1992 with a peak in 2011. Then, prescriptions starting dropping because of regulatory and legislative restrictions, as well as tighter clinical prescribing guidelines and greater reimbursement controls. From 2012 to 2016, prescriptions dropped an average of 4 percent per year.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of opioid prescriptions dropped to an annual decrease of 5 percent from 2014 to 2016. Earlier, it increased 4.1 percent annually from 2006 to 2008, and slowed to 1.1 percent annually from 2008-2012.
"The U.S. opioid epidemic is one of the most challenging public health crises we face as a nation, and our latest report provides novel insights and evidence as part of that ongoing societal discussion," Murray Aitken, IQVIA senior vice president and executive director of the IQVIA Institute for Human Data Science, said in a press release.
IQVIA derived data for the new report from "thousands of sources," including clinical settings, pharmacies and insurance companies, Tor Constantino of IQVIA media relations told UPI.
New therapy starts for prescription opioids in pain management declined nearly 8 percent. Medication-assisted therapies, or MATs, for opioid use dependence, however, nearly doubled to 82,000 prescriptions per month.
"Healthcare professionals are prescribing opioids less often for pain treatment, but they are actively prescribing MATs to address opioid addiction," Aitken said.
Overall drug spending grew 0.6 percent net of off-invoice discounts and rebates though invoice-level growth slowed to 1.4 percent. Overall, spending was $453 billion on a gross invoice basis.
Retail prescription drugs totaled $212 billion in net spending for the year -- a 2.1 percent decline from 2016. List prices at pharmacies rose by 58 percent during the past five years, though final out-of-pocket costs declined 17 percent because of increased use of generic drugs and coupons. Ninety-one percent of all prescriptions are generics, researchers reported.
Almost 31 percent of prescriptions had zero patient out-of-pocket cost. At the other extreme, 3.4 million prescriptions were filled with $500 or more out-of-pocket. The report also noted significant increases of 90-day prescriptions for the treatment of chronic conditions.
Over the next five years, researchers predict an increase of 2 percent to 5 percent net spending. The estimate is projected to drive overall drug spending in the United States to $550 billion to $600 billion by 2022.