Opioid prescribing rates continue to decline in local counties

After peaking between the years 2012 and 2014, the amount of prescription opioids sold in Mecosta, Osceola and Lake counties has been declining in recent years. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the overall national opioid prescribing rate has been steadily dropping since 2012 as well. (Courtesy photo)

MECOSTA, OSCEOLA, LAKE COUNTIES — While the nation continues to face what has become known as the “opioid crisis,” local counties are seeing a decline in the amount of opioids prescribed in recent years.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states there was a steady increase in the overall national opioid prescribing rate starting in 2006. However, the national rate has been in a decline since 2012.

Recently, The Washington Post launched an interactive website based on data maintained by the Drug Enforcement Administration during this period of prescription increase between 2006 and 2012. The database allows users to view statistics regarding opioid sales and prescriptions in every county in the U.S.

According to the database, between 2006 and 2012, 11,662,360 prescription pain pills were dispensed in Mecosta County; 6,096,870 were dispensed in Osceola County; and 1,911,550 were dispensed in Lake County.

Based on county populations, that would be enough for 39 pills per person per year in Mecosta County, 36 pills per person per year in Osceola County and 23 pills per person per year in Lake County.

Scott Lombard, manager of community outreach and health education for Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City hospitals, said during this time frame prescribers were largely focused on helping patients control pain.

“I think this may have contributed to some of the huge spikes in prescriptions we’ve seen,” he said.

However, Lombard said after the prescribing rate peaked in local counties around 2014, the national conversation regarding opioids started to change and people became more aware of the addictive quality of these drugs, leading to the beginning of the decline in prescriptions.

Data at the state and county levels from the CDC shows in 2014, in Mecosta County, 104.6 retail opioid prescriptions were dispensed per 100 people per year; 104.8 were dispensed in Osceola County and 37.6 were dispensed in Lake County.

In 2017, these numbers dropped to 82.1, 63.2 and 29 prescriptions per 100 people per year, respectively.

Lombard also credits the continuing decline in prescriptions to new state mandated guidelines for prescribing opioids for chronic pain.

According to the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, the Michigan Opioid Laws require prescribers to follow several steps before writing a prescription for a controlled substance containing an opioid. This state mandate was implemented in June 2018.

Lombard added although it is too soon to see the effects of the new guidelines on prescribing rates, he expects to see the numbers continue to drop.

Despite the decline in opioid prescriptions on both the local and national level, Lombard said there still is a long way to go in dealing with opioid use and addiction.

Part of the problem, he said, is although there may be less people becoming addicted to opioids due to less being prescribed to new patients, there are many people already addicted to these substances.

“The hope, I think, will be less people will get started on that path because there will be less prescriptions,” he said, “but there is a problem because people are still dying from overdoses.”

Jen Hansen, health promotion supervisor for District Health Department No. 10, said preventative education and awareness and access to treatment are important next steps in dealing with the “opioid crisis.”

“In the past, there was a lack of awareness of how addicting opioids really are,” she said.

Hansen said in Lake County the department has a Drug-Free Communities grant through SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) which they use to educate people in local communities and try to help people who already have an addiction seek treatment.

“Part of it is looking at root causes and how people get going down these paths,” she said.

Lombard added throughout the region it will be important for different agencies and organizations to work together to find solutions and identify people in need of help.

“People know it’s an issue, but they don’t think it relates to them,” he said. “We haven’t won the war by any means.”

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Posted by Taylor Fussman

Taylor is the cops and courts reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review newspapers. She can be reached at (231) 592-8362 or by email at tfussman@pioneergroup.com.

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