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High Potency Opioid Use Increased in 2015, As Other Opioid Use Declined: Report

Amid increasing attempts in recent years to address the opioid abuse epidemic in the United States, a new report indicates use of the addictive pain medications has dropped overall, but use of high-potency opioids, like Percocet, has significantly increased during the same time period. 

According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) QuarterWatch report issued late last week, opioid use across all types of narcotic painkillers decreased by eight percent, while use of high-potency opioids, like OxyContin and Percocet, increased by 11%. The mixed results of the new report are not reassuring, considering the worsening of the painkiller abuse epidemic.

QuarterWatch is an independent publication that monitors all adverse drug event reports submitted to the FDA. The ISMP analyzed computer excerpts from the FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS).

The recent decline was lead almost entirely by a decrease in use of the leading mid-potency opioid, Vicodin.  The ISMP indicated this was one of the “largest known changes in drug utilization,” affecting the most widely prescribed therapeutic drug. Vicodin accounted for 40% of all opioid consumption.

Despite the positive improvement seen in the overall use and prescription of opioid medications, there was no drop for higher potency oxycodone based narcotic painkillers including, OxyContin and Percocet, which are two opioid abuse-resistant combinations drugs.

Dispensed outpatient prescriptions for OxyContin and Percocet products increased 11%, reaching 15.8 million overall.

The recent drop comes amid news of the opioid epidemic worsening.  A study published in May revealed the opioid epidemic has begun to strain intensive care units in the U.S. Opioid related hospital admissions increased more than 64 percent from 2011 to 2015, greatly straining the staff and resources of hospital ICUs.

The report indicated opioid use was measured by dispensed outpatient prescriptions. In 2015, overall opioid use declined by about 8 percent, a drop of 6.6 million prescriptions over the period. The findings come after reports from 2015 indicated opioid overdose deaths had increased, despite a decrease in abuse.

The majority of the change was seen from placing increased restrictions on physician prescribing, this reduced dispensed prescriptions by 21% in 2014. Opioids were reclassified from Schedule III to Schedule II drugs.

A study published last month  in the journal Health Affairs also indicated certain restrictions placed on opioids help to reduce prescriptions dispensed. The study revealed monitoring doctors who prescribe painkillers helped reduce the rate of opioids prescribed by more than 30 percent.

In March, the CDC announced new prescribing guidelines for narcotic painkillers, guidelines intended for primary care doctors in the hopes of reducing opioid abuse and overdose. In 2013, the FDA issued new label requirements for opioids, calling for stronger warnings and safety language on extended release and long-acting versions, such as OxyContin and Vicodin.

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