CDC Study of Controlled Substance Prescriptions Finds Urgent Need for Improvement

CDC Study of Controlled Substance Prescriptions Finds Urgent Need for Improvement
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October 16, 2015

A report focusing on prescriptions for controlled medicine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found some concerning trends.

The study found an urgent need for improved prescribing practices for opioids, sedatives and stimulants varied widely among states despite the fact that states are similar in the prevalence of the conditions these drugs are used to treat.

It is the first multi-state report from the CDC- and Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-funded Prescription Behavior Surveillance System (PBSS), which analyzes data from state prescription drug monitoring programs. The eight states that submitted 2013 data—California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio and West Virginia—represent about a quarter of the U.S. population.

These monitoring programs can be used to detect and measure prescribing patterns that suggest abuse and misuse of controlled substances. Since drug overdose is the leading cause of injury in the US, this research can help inform states' prevention efforts, said CDC director Tom Frieden in a written statement.

Despite similarities between the states studies, the study found that prescribing rates varied widely: twofold for opioids, fourfold for stimulants, and nearly twofold for benzodiazepines.

Even the rate at which the top prescribers dispense medication varied. A small minority of prescribers are responsible for most opioid prescriptions, but the top 1 percent of prescribers wrote 1 in 4 opioid prescriptions in Delaware, compared with 1 in 8 in Maine.

Patients who received opioid prescriptions often received benzodiazepine (sedative) prescriptions as well, despite the risk for adverse drug interactions.

Finally, the report found that the percentage of controlled substance prescriptions paid in cash – and indicator of abuse – varied almost threefold among five states reporting these data.

"A more comprehensive approach is needed to address the prescription opioid overdose epidemic, including guidance to providers on the risks and benefits of these medications," the CDC's Debra Houry said in a statement. Houry is the director of the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.