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CDC: Overall Decrease, Wide Disparities in Opioid Prescription

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds the quantity of opioids prescribed in the United States decreased each year from 2010 to 2015.

Despite the reductions, the overall number of opioid prescriptions remains high. The Vital Signs report shows that the amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 was triple the amount prescribed in 1999.

In addition, CDC found wide disparities in prescriptions among U.S. counties, with the highest-prescribing counties ordering six times more opioids per person than the lowest-prescribing counties. Higher-prescribing areas typically are small cities or large towns with:

  • a higher percentage of white residents;
  • more primary care physicians and dentists;
  • more uninsured and or unemployed people; and
  • more people with diabetes, arthritis, or a disability.

CDC urges health care providers to follow its Guideline to Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain. The guidance encourages providers to prescribe opioids only when benefits outweigh the risks, and if necessary, to prescribe the lowest effective dose for fewer days. CDC also encourages providers to use state-based prescription drug monitoring programs to distinguish patients at risk for addiction or overdose.

Contact Director of Policy Erin O’Malley at or 202.585.0127 with questions.

About the Author

Emily Schweich is a communications manager at America's Essential Hospitals.

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