Background: Prescription opioid-related overdose deaths increased sharply during 1999-2010 in the United States in parallel with increased opioid prescribing. CDC assessed changes in national-level and county-level opioid prescribing during 2006-2015.
Methods: CDC analyzed retail prescription data from QuintilesIMS to assess opioid prescribing in the United States from 2006 to 2015, including rates, amounts, dosages, and durations prescribed. CDC examined county-level prescribing patterns in 2010 and 2015.
Results: The amount of opioids prescribed in the United States peaked at 782 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per capita in 2010 and then decreased to 640 MME per capita in 2015. Despite significant decreases, the amount of opioids prescribed in 2015 remained approximately three times as high as in 1999 and varied substantially across the country. County-level factors associated with higher amounts of prescribed opioids include a larger percentage of non-Hispanic whites; a higher prevalence of diabetes and arthritis; micropolitan status (i.e., town/city; nonmetro); and higher unemployment and Medicaid enrollment.
Conclusions and implications for public health practice: Despite reductions in opioid prescribing in some parts of the country, the amount of opioids prescribed remains high relative to 1999 levels and varies substantially at the county-level. Given associations between opioid prescribing, opioid use disorder, and overdose rates, health care providers should carefully weigh the benefits and risks when prescribing opioids outside of end-of-life care, follow evidence-based guidelines, such as CDC's Guideline for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain, and consider nonopioid therapy for chronic pain treatment. State and local jurisdictions can use these findings combined with Prescription Drug Monitoring Program data to identify areas with prescribing patterns that place patients at risk for opioid use disorder and overdose and to target interventions with prescribers based on opioid prescribing guidelines.