COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Painkiller prescribing continues to fall in Ohio as health and law enforcement authorities battle a deadly addictions epidemic, according to data released by the state Monday.
Last year, 701 million painkiller pills were dispensed to Ohio patients, down 12 percent from an all-time high of 793 million in 2012, according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.
The state also saw a decline in the number of painkiller prescriptions, and a 71 percent decrease in the number of patients who go doctor shopping – moving from doctor to doctor in search of drugs – thanks to the pharmacy board’s computerized reporting system.
Steven Schierholt, the pharmacy board’s executive director, attributes the declines to efforts to educate pharmacists and prescribers about the painkiller addiction problem.
Recent efforts to make the reporting system easier to use and stricter guidelines for writing painkiller prescriptions have also helped, he said.
In 2014, 2,482 people in Ohio died from accidental overdoses, an 18 percent increase over the previous year. That includes a record 1,177 overdose deaths related to heroin, up from 986 in 2013.
“The 2014 data was frightening, but one of the things we’re doing is controlling the things we can control,” Schierholt said. “That’s something the governor is very committed to.”
Data for 2015 is not yet available.
Guidelines released last month by Gov. John Kasich said people with short-term pain from injuries or surgeries should be given alternatives to prescription painkillers whenever possible and be provided only the minimum amounts if absolutely needed.
Ohio previously set guidelines to reduce the prescribing of painkillers in emergency rooms and for closer monitoring of prescriptions for people suffering chronic pain, such as cancer patients.
Last year, Kasich said Ohio would make up to $1.5 million available annually for prescribers to integrate their computer systems with the database that tracks patients’ prescribing history.
The pharmacy board said Monday it had received 148 requests, coming from hospitals, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and major health systems for integration into the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System.
The pharmacy board also said prescriptions have risen steadily for Suboxone, a drug used to help heroin and painkiller addicts in recovery, from 6.9 million pills in 2010 to 17 million last year.
Suboxone treats addicts’ withdrawal symptoms and blocks brain receptors to counter the effect of craving for narcotics like heroin or oxycodone. Because of its own potential for abuse, prescriptions are carefully monitored, said Cameron McNamee, a pharmacy board spokesman.