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Study: Laws that limit opioid prescription duration help cut length of use

Study: Laws that limit opioid prescription duration help cut length of use
State laws that limit opioid prescriptions have had an effect in reducing usage, according to a new analysis. Photo by jorono/Pixabay

Aug. 9 (UPI) -- States that placed limits on the duration of opioid pain medication prescriptions saw a reduction in the length of time people used the potentially addictive drugs, a study published Monday by JAMA Internal Medicine found.

In states with laws that initial prescriptions to seven days or fewer, the number of days Medicare beneficiaries were prescribed the drugs fell to 33 days per person per year in 2018 from 44 days in 2013 -- about a 26% reduction, the data showed.

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In states without such provisions, the number of days Medicare beneficiaries were prescribed drugs dropped to 33 days per person per year in 2018 from 43 days in 2013, a 23% change.

Although the duration of opioid prescriptions among beneficiaries of the government-run health plan, which includes all seniors age 65 and older, declined nationally over the six-year period, likely due to increased awareness of their potential dangers, the findings suggest policies that limit their use have a significant impact, researchers said.

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"Older patients being treated for pain do have a variety of risks from opioids, but the goal [of these laws] is to achieve appropriate pain control for older patients while minimizing risk," study co-author Dr. Michael J. Brenner told UPI in an email.

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"The recent laws are mainly directed at curbing new opioid dependence in patients undergoing surgery, dental procedures or [those] with other new-onset pain," said Brenner, an associate professor of head and neck surgery at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Between 2016 and 2018, 23 states enacted legislation designed to limit the duration of initial opioid prescriptions to seven days or fewer, according to a 2019 analysis.

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The laws are a direct response to the ongoing opioid "epidemic" in the United States, a spate of addictions and overdose deaths related to use of these prescription pain medications, which have been linked with abuse and misuse due to their intoxicating effects.

Previous studies have shown the drugs, designed to be used in patients with severe, persistent pain such as cancer patients, have been shown historically been prescribed improperly, resulting in increased availability.

For this study, Brenner and his colleagues analyzed opioid prescribing trends among Medicare beneficiaries across all 50 states from the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2018.

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There were decreases in the duration of opioid prescriptions written by primary care physicians, pain specialists, dentists and surgeons nationally during the period, with slightly higher declines in states with limit laws, the researchers said.

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"We increasingly recognize that the opioid crisis is a societal problem that affects individuals, families and communities," Brenner said.

"Minimizing the incidence of dependency, and specifically opioid use disorder, is among the top priorities in limiting opioid prescribing," he said.

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