A timely study by researchers at the New York State Department of Health, just published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, documents how widespread the use of prescription opioids has become in recent decades.
Focusing on the state’s female Medicaid recipients of reproductive age (15 to 44), the study found that fully 20 percent had been prescribed opioids at least once between 2008 and 2013.
That figure included 9.5 percent of the women who gave birth the same year, which is a particular concern because opioid use during pregnancy can cause birth defects and other health problems for newborns.
The authors–Brian Gallagher, Yejee Shin and Patrick Roohan of the Health Department’s Office of Quality and Patient Safety–noted previous studies involving other states had found even higher rates. They suggest that New York regulations, including the four-year-old Internet System for Tracking Overprescribing (I-STOP), “might contribute to the lower proportion of opioid prescribing in New York compared with opioid prescribing in most other states and the United States overall.”
The CDC reported in January that 47,055 Americans died of an opioid overdose in 2014, up 137 percent since 2000.
The rising death toll from heroin and prescription opioid overdose prompted Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday to appoint a 23-member task force to combat what he called a “national epidemic.” It was the latest in a series of steps by state government to confront opioid abuse, with more likely to come.
In an op-ed Wednesday, CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta argued that most of the blame for the public health crisis nationwide lies with doctors who prescribe opioids too readily and fail to properly monitor how patients use them.
As Gupta wrote, “There is no other medication routinely used for a nonfatal condition that kills patients so frequently.”