Painkiller prescriptions vary widely by state

This article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 16, 2014.

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/opioid-prescribing/infographic.html#map
Source: http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/opioid-prescribing/infographic.html#map

If an illness, a medical procedure or an accident has you in pain, the type of medication you’re given to ease it may depend a lot on where you live.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a new report found the rate at which doctors prescribe narcotic and opioid painkillers is nearly three times higher in some states than others. And, not surprisingly, prescription drug overdose deaths are more common in states where the drugs, including Vicodin, Oxycontin, Opana and methadone, are easier to get.

The CDC says regional health differences can’t explain the variation in states’ prescription rates, so it’s likely that local doctors influence each other’s prescribing habits. State laws also play a role.

California has the nation’s second-lowest rate of painkiller prescriptions, which researchers attribute, in part, to the state’s prescription drug monitoring program. The Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System allows doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement officers to access a patient’s prescription history to help them determine whether a patient is abusing the drugs. Other states have similar monitoring programs, and the CDC is encouraging all states to implement them and require health care providers to use them.

By the way, Hawaii had the lowest rate of painkiller prescriptions, while Alabama had the highest, all based on 2012 figures.

Here’s a look at states’ prescription stats:

259 million

The number of painkiller prescriptions U.S. doctors wrote in 2012. It’s enough for every American adult to have one bottle of pills.

57

The number of painkiller prescriptions written for every 100 people living in California, making it the state with the second-lowest rate in 2012. Hawaii had the lowest, with 52 prescriptions for every 100 residents.

143

The number of painkiller prescriptions written in 2012 for every 100 residents in Alabama, the state with the highest rate. Ten of the states with the highest prescription painkiller use are in the South.

46

The average number of people who die from a prescription drug overdose each day in the United States. The rates are higher in states where the prescriptions are most common.

2x

There were more than twice as many painkiller prescriptions per person in the U.S. as in Canada, according to the CDC report.

To read more from the CDC’s report on prescription painkillers: http://1.usa.gov/V8iJLR.

For a state-by-state map: http://1.usa.gov/1q2F37g