Jul 27

HHS Secretary: 259 Million Opioid Prescriptions in U.S. in 2012 Outnumbered American Adults

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell told Congress Wednesday that there were more than 250 million prescriptions for opioid drugs in 2012 – more than the number of adults in the U.S.

“In the year 2012, there were 259 million prescriptions for opioids. That’s more than one for every adult in the country,” Burwell told the House Ways and Means Committee during a hearing about her department’s fiscal year 2016 budget request.

Burwell was responding to Rep. Richard Neal’s (D-Mass.) question regarding opioid addiction. “The opioid addiction issue is pronounced now across my congressional district, and there are all sorts of stories now that indicate a nationwide trend, and curious about the response of your department, the agencies that you oversee and also to ask specifically about prescription drug misuse, the evidence that you’re coming across on that basis,” Neal said.

“Over 250 million prescriptions in 2012 for opioids,” said Burwell. “So that’s how many prescriptions there were, so that’s more than the number of adults in our country. So that was one prescription for every adult in the country in terms of where we are and the magnitude of the problem.”

In fact, she said, “Opioid and overdose deaths have exceeded the number of deaths from car accidents or any other accidental death,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Drug overdose was the leading cause of injury death in 2013. Among people 25 to 64 years old, drug overdose caused more deaths than motor vehicle traffic crashes.”

“There were 43,982 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2013. Of these, 22,767 (51.8%) were related to prescription drugs. Of the 22,767 deaths relating to prescription drug overdose in 2013, 16,235 (71.3%) involved opioid painkillers,” the CDC said on its website.Burwell offered three solutions to the problem of opioid overdose. The first solution, she said, is prescribing. Burwell proposed providing new prescribing guidelines for pain and pain medication and the use of “prescription drug monitoring plans,” which exist in almost all 50 states.

Prescription drug monitoring plans “are the means by which a physician has the opportunity to look up and see that a controlled substance was already given to you and control it that way – same thing with pharmacists,” said Burwell.

“Number two is the use of naloxone, which is a very important drug that actually stops death when there is overdose and making sure that first responders have access. That is a very important part of that picture,” she said.

“Number three is the issue of Medicaid-assisted treatment combined with behavior issues and making sure that we do treatment for those who are addicted,” Burwell concluded.


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