Controlled Substance Prescribing Patterns--Prescription Behavior Surveillance System, Eight States, 2013

MMWR Surveill Summ. 2015 Oct 16;64(9):1-14. doi: 10.15585/mmwr.ss6409a1.


Problem/condition: Drug overdose is the leading cause of injury death in the United States. The death rate from drug overdose in the United States more than doubled during 1999-2013, from 6.0 per 100,000 population in 1999 to 13.8 in 2013. The increase in drug overdoses is attributable primarily to the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs, especially opioid analgesics, sedatives/tranquilizers, and stimulants. Such drugs are prescribed widely in the United States, with substantial variation by state. Certain patients obtain drugs for nonmedical use or resale by obtaining overlapping prescriptions from multiple prescribers. The risk for overdose is directly associated with the use of multiple prescribers and daily dosages of >100 morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) per day.

Period covered: 2013.

Description of system: The Prescription Behavior Surveillance System (PBSS) is a public health surveillance system that allows public health authorities to characterize and quantify the use and misuse of prescribed controlled substances. PBSS began collecting data in 2012 and is funded by CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. PBSS uses standard metrics to measure prescribing rates per 1,000 state residents by demographic variables, drug type, daily dose, and source of payment. Data from the system can be used to calculate rates of misuse by certain behavioral measures such as use of multiple prescribers and pharmacies within specified time periods. This report is based on 2013 de-identified data (most recent available) that represent approximately one fourth of the U.S.

Population: Data were submitted quarterly by prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) in eight states (California, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Louisiana, Maine, Ohio, and West Virginia) that routinely collect data on every prescription for a controlled substance to help law enforcement and health care providers identify misuse or abuse of such drugs.

Results: In all eight states, opioid analgesics were prescribed approximately twice as often as stimulants or benzodiazepines. Prescribing rates by drug class varied widely by state: twofold for opioids, fourfold for stimulants, almost twofold for benzodiazepines, and eightfold for carisoprodol, a muscle relaxant. Rates for opioids and benzodiazepines were substantially higher for females than for males in all states. In most states, opioid prescribing rates peaked in either the 45-54 years or the 55-64 years age group. Benzodiazepine prescribing rates increased with age. Louisiana ranked first in opioid prescribing, and Delaware and Maine had relatively high rates of use of long-acting (LA) or extended-release (ER) opioids. Delaware and Maine ranked highest in both mean daily opioid dosage and in the percentage of opioid prescriptions written for >100 MMEs per day. The top 1% of prescribers wrote one in four opioid prescriptions in Delaware, compared with one in eight in Maine. For the five states whose PDMPs collected the method of payment, the percentage of controlled substance prescriptions paid for in cash varied almost threefold, and the percentage paid by Medicaid varied sixfold. In West Virginia, for 1 of every 5 days of treatment with an opioid, the patient also was taking a benzodiazepine. Multiple-provider episode rates were highest in Ohio and lowest in Louisiana.

Interpretation: This report presents rates of population-based prescribing and behavioral measures of drug misuse in the general population that have not been available previously for comparison among demographic groups and states. The higher prescribing rates for opioids among women compared with men are consistent with a higher self-reported prevalence of certain common types of pain, such as lower back pain among women. The trend in opioid prescribing rates with age is consistent with an increase in the prevalence of chronic pain with age, but the increasing prescribing rates of benzodiazepines with age is not consistent with the fact that anxiety is most common among persons aged 30-44 years. The variation among states in the type of opioid or benzodiazepine of choice is unexplained. Most opioid prescribing occurs among a small minority of prescribers. Most of the prescriptions by top-decile prescribers probably are written by general, family medicine, internal medicine, and midlevel practitioners. The source of payment varied by state, for reasons that are unclear. Persons who are prescribed opioids also are commonly prescribed benzodiazepine sedatives despite the risk for additive depressant effects.

Public health actions: States can use their prescription drug monitoring programs to generate population-based measures for the prescribing of controlled substances and for behaviors that suggest their misuse. Comparing data with other states and tracking changes in these measures over time can be useful in measuring the effect of policies designed to reduce prescription drug misuse.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Analgesics, Opioid / therapeutic use
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use
  • Controlled Substances*
  • Drug Overdose / epidemiology
  • Drug Prescriptions / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / adverse effects
  • Prescription Drug Misuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Prescription Drugs / therapeutic use*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Analgesics, Opioid
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Controlled Substances
  • Prescription Drugs
  • Benzodiazepines