Study finds opioid prescription practices inconsistent across globe

Health officials say enough opioids are being prescribed for every American to be on them round-the-clock for three weeks.

If you suffer from pain, though, the chances a doctor prescribes you an opioid depends on where you live.

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that prescribing practices are so inconsistent that residents in some counties are prescribed six times more opioid painkillers than those in other counties.

"States like Ohio, Kentucky and Florida have been the most successful in using state policies to change prescribing and start to reduce some of the problems," says Dr. Anne Schuchat. "Counties with higher prescribing had more people who were unemployed or uninsured."

In 2010, the amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. peaked at a figure equivalent to 782 milligrams of morphine per person. By 2015, that figure had actually dropped to 640 -- still more than three times as high as it was in 1999.

That concerns public health officials, politicians and law enforcement authorities as they try to curb an epidemic of opioid abuse that led to more than 33,000 deaths in 2015.

"Even though there is improvement in prescribing in today's report, we still see too many given too much for too long. And that causes risk for families around the country," says Schuchat.

Some states are taking action to catch people who are abusing opioids. A new Georgia law requires pharmacists to report all controlled substance prescriptions they fill to a monitoring database within 24 hours.

"The Georgia pharmacists, I think the consensus overwhelmingly was the scope and depth of the opioid epidemic really compels this. So, it's absolutely worth it. And we believe that it will save lives," says Greg Reybold.

And the Trump Administration says conquering the opioid epidemic is a priority. The president touted it on the campaign trail and now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price is on a listening tour.

Federal health officials are urging physicians to explore other pain management options for their patients and prescribe opioids only when the benefits are expected to outweigh the risks.