New data shows Pa. doctors are writing far fewer opioid prescriptions | The Numbers Racket

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Newly released American Medical Association data shows some good news in Pennsylvania’s ongoing effort to fight opioid abuse: Physician usage of Pennsylvania’s prescription drug database, which helps doctors track people who might be prescription shopping, leaped in between 2016 and 2018.

That new data is the focus of this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.

According to the AMA’s 2019 Opioid Progress Report, Pennsylvania physicians logged more than 17 million queries to the prescription drugs database in 2018, up from 12.7 million queries in 2017, and way up from 2.3 million queries in 2016 when the state moved to strengthen the program.

States with the largest drop in opioid prescriptions (2013-18, according to AMA data)
  1. West Virginia (51.0 percent)
  2. Rhode Island (49.4 percent)
  3. Massachusetts (44.3 percent)
  4. Ohio (44.2 percent)
  5. Pennsylvania (43.0 percent)

“Pennsylvania’s [database] has basically stopped doctor shopping and allowed physicians to more easily identify patients who may have substance use disorder,” John Gallagher, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s opioid task force, said in a statement.

Source: American Medical Association’s 2019 Opioids Progress Report screen capture

The new AMA data “showed that Pennsylvania physicians have written fewer opioid prescriptions for five straight years and have seen the fifth largest percentage drop nationally between 2013-18 (43 percent),” the state medical society said in a statement.

In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf declared a statewide emergency to fight opioid abuse, also setting up a statewide command center to coordinate the effort. Lawmakers continue to advance legislation to enhance the state’s effort.

Source: American Medical Association 2019 Opioids Progress report Screen Capture

In addition: More than 16,000 Pennsylvania physicians “took 65,000 opioid and pain management CME courses from the Pennsylvania Medical Society in 2017-18,” the state medical society said.

This is what opioid abuse in Pennsylvania looks like | The Numbers Racket

That data “shows that steps taken by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the Wolf Administration are helping the medical community make progress in fighting this crisis,” Gallagher said. “The desperately needed next step is a concerted effort to expand access to high-quality care for substance use disorders.”

There’s a good — and very real — reason for that.

According to data compiled by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, there were 2,548 opioid-involved deaths statewide in 2017, for a rate of 21.2 deaths per 100,000 people. That’s higher than the national average of 14.6 deaths per 100,000 people, the national data showed.

“In 2013, prescription opioids were the underlying cause of death in every one of two overdose deaths” in Pennsylvania, according to the institute. By 2017, the main cause of death was due to synthetic opioids — primarily from fentanyl. Deaths from synthetic opioids rose seventeen-fold, from 108 reported deaths in 2013 to 1,982 deaths by 2017, the national data indicated.

Overdose deaths from heroin reached a peak of 926 deaths in 2016, the national data showed. By 2017, the state recorded a more than 10 percent reduction, to 819 deaths.

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press

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