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DEA Releases Opioid Prescription Statistics: Pain Medication Fuels Epidemic

Sunday, August 11, 2019 @ 12:08 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

pills-1190217_1280CLARION CO., Pa. (EYT) – The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) recently made information public from their database tracking prescription pain medication, and the results appear to have a direct correlation with our growing opioid crisis.

The database tracks prescription oxycodone and hydrocodone from the years 2006 through 2012, which was when opioid prescription use peaked in the U.S., according to the NIH National Institute on Drug Abuse.

DEA contends that this is when the nation’s deadliest drug epidemic spun out of control.

An analysis by The Washington Post revealed that over those seven years, rural communities in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia where the per capita death rates nationwide from opioids were the highest were flooded with a disproportionate share of the 76 billion opioid pain pills from some of the country’s largest drug companies.

The Post also revealed where prescription opioid pills were shipped, on a county-by-county basis, and compared that data to additional federal data looking at deaths caused by prescription opioids.

Locally, Clarion County received 7,550,725 pills in the time period in question, which is about 26 pills per resident per year, with the Walmart Pharmacy in Clarion receiving the largest number of prescriptions.

In the surrounding area, even more prescription opioids were shipped, with Venango County receiving 13,348,640 pills, which is about 34 per resident per year, and Jefferson County received 10,966,370 pills, which is also about 34 per resident per year.

Only Forest County saw a lower number, receiving just 1,016,370 pills, or about 19 per resident per year.

Data from the NIH National Institute of Drug Abuse shows that while the number and rate of prescriptions for opioids in Pennsylvania peaked in 2012 at 83.3 opioid prescriptions per 100 residents and have been on the decline, the age-adjusted rate of drug overdose deaths continued to increase significantly in Pennsylvania by 16.9 percent from 2016 (37.9 per 100,000) to 2017 (44.3 per 100,000).

According to OverdoseFreePA, there were 59 overdose deaths reported in Clarion County from 2006 to 2018, with fentanyl being the lead culprit, and heroin and oxycodone tied as the second most common drugs in overdose deaths.

Less information is available for Venango County, but OverdoseFreePA has 36 overdose deaths on record for the county from 2015 to 2018, with fentanyl being the lead culprit, as well, and cocaine, heroin, and oxycodone tied for the second most common.

In Jefferson County, the information available shows 33 overdose deaths were reported from 2014 to 2018, with Alprazolam, a benzodiazepine used to treat anxiety disorders, causing the most deaths. Ethanyl and heroin were tied for the second most common drugs in overdose deaths, and oxycodone tied for the least common, along with hydrocodone, morphine, methamphetamine, and fentanyl.

According to Marie Plummer, Venango County’s substance abuse director, abuse of prescription opioids in the region does seem to be on the decline, but opioid abuse, in general, is still a serious problem.

“It’s still happening, but not at the alarming rates we saw two years ago,” Plummer told ExploreClarion.com.

“It’s more often other types of overdoses now. Generally, it’s a combination of things, not just one thing. Today, we see more meth involved.”

Executive director Susan Ford, of Clearfield Jefferson Drug and Alcohol Commission, noted that changes in the handling of prescription drugs have effected some changes.

“I think with the advent of the prescritption drug monitoring program, doctors became more cognizant of prescriptions, when they last prescribed things, and what other doctors were prescribing for people. It got rid of the ‘doctor shopping’ portion of things,” she noted.

“We still see it some, but now it’s more below the table ways that people are getting things rather than walking into a doctor with what sounds like a legitimate complaint.”

However, while the changes in how prescription monitoring may have reduced some forms of drug abuse, statistics show that overdose deaths are still on the rise.

“It’s sad,” Ford said. “You shut down one avenue, and ten others just pop up to take its place.”


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