Maine physicians topped nation for writing opioid prescriptions

Health care providers in Maine wrote prescriptions for a commonly abused type of painkiller at the highest rate in the nation in 2012, according to a new federal report that found wide variations in prescribing patterns across the U.S.

State officials noted that since then, the number of Mainers in treatment for painkiller addiction has dropped significantly, thanks to broad efforts to better manage prescribing practices.

For every 100 Maine residents, health providers wrote 21.8 prescriptions in 2012 for long-acting or extended-release opioid pain relievers, which are more prone to abuse than other painkillers, according to the CDC report released Tuesday. That rate put Maine at the top of the list nationally, just barely outpacing Delaware, at 21.7 per 100 residents.

Maine’s rate was more than five times that of Texas, which had the lowest rate at 4.2.

Dr. Kevin Flanigan, medical director for the MaineCare program, said he couldn’t explain why Maine topped the list, other than the state’s decade-long struggle with opioid drug abuse.

“It is not a surprise for us to be leading the pack for any category of use of opioids,” he said.

Nationally, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions in 2012 for opioid painkillers, such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, the CDC report found. That’s enough to put a bottle of pills in the hands of every adult in the country.

“Prescription drug overdose is epidemic in the United States,” CDC Director Tom Frieden said in a news release. “All too often, and in far too many communities, the treatment is becoming the problem. Overdose rates are higher where these drugs are prescribed more frequently. States and practices where prescribing rates are highest need to take a particularly hard look at ways to reduce the inappropriate prescription of these dangerous drugs.”

Rates of chronic pain and other illnesses don’t vary enough from state to state to account for the differences, public health officials said. High prescribing rates may point to abuse of the drugs.

Maine ranked 25th in the nation for prescription rates for opioid painkillers more generally. For every 100 Maine residents, health care providers wrote 85 prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012.

The highest rates were in the Southeast, led by Alabama, where providers wrote 143 prescriptions for every 100 residents.

Maine ranked 11th nationally for per capita prescription rates of high-dose opioids.

MaineCare adopted new policies governing pain management in January 2013, including requiring chronic pain patients to try alternative therapies and limiting their daily painkiller dosing. The program also restricts patients to two weeks of opioid painkillers during a year, unless a doctor justifies a longer treatment period.

Those changes slashed the number of opioid pills prescribed to MaineCare recipients by 6 million, from 22 million in 2012 to 16 million in 2013, Flanigan said. The trend has continued into this year and private insurers have shown interest in following MaineCare’s lead, he said.

The number of Mainers in treatment for opiate and painkiller addiction dropped from 4,180 in 2012 to 3,441 last year, according to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

Among MaineCare patients, prescribed opiate medications fell 17 percent from 2012 to 2013, the DHHS data showed. For patients with private insurance, opioid prescriptions dropped 6 percent, but jumped 33 percent among Mainers covered by Medicare.

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FRANK EARLEY's picture

I sure wish someone would come out in support...................

I sure wish someone would come out in support of legitimate patients who rely on these medications just to barely make it through their day. All I ever hear about is trying to cut down the number of prescriptions written. To me it's a threat to my day to day living.
It's the only one of my nine prescriptions that I have to go and pick up the written prescription in person at the doctors office and have it filled every month. I've even come to expect this procedure every month.
Lets talk of having to increase the level of pain relief. All the pain meds in the world won't leave me pain free. The best I can hope for is diminished pain for a good part of the day. I requested an increase in my pain meds a couple of years ago. My (very new),PCP all but came out and accused me of doctor shopping or supplying myself with pills for sale. I took immediate action and fired this idiot as my Primary Care Physician. I let the board of directors at his practice know what I felt was done to me, I won't take my dog to him.
now a few months ago I requested to increase my pain meds as well. Can't be done in this facility. They wont even prescribe it above a certain dose.
I ended up being refereed to a pain clinic, sign a new contract and start walking on eggshells all over again. That incident alone had me waiting six weeks at the lower dose which was losing strength.
I have a well known, well documented disease. There are two features to this disease that are sort of responsible for this disease being described as "Hideous", that is degenerative chronic nerve pain. as well as the fact that this little bugger is incurable. My pain is getting worse, as a result my RX's need to keep up.
All this fighting against doctors prescribing practices has made it difficult to say the least for me and many others to get our medications. I'm sick of having to jump thru hoops before some doctors will even acknowledge there is such a thing as pain. The word "PAIN" alone scares doctors due to the threat of prosecution if they go over some imaginary limit set by the DEA.
I've been taking two different types of opiat pain meds for going on seven years now, I would think if I was going to abuse or sell my pills I would have started by now. No instead I sit in my house with my trusty roommate Mr.Ruger 357.
How long does someone need to be sick before we start being treated more like patients instead of "Parolees", I'm counting the days............

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