Report: Opioid prescriptions down in Alabama for 7th consecutive year

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 10:03 PM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - For the seventh year in a row, the number of opioid prescriptions in Alabama has dropped.

A new report released by the American Medical Association shows that since 2011, Alabama physicians have reduced the number of opioid prescriptions in the state by 38%.

The report also shows that Alabama physicians are prescribing safer dosages of opioids. The morphine milligram equivalent of prescriptions, which is an opioid’s dosage equivalency to morphine and gauges its overdose potential, fell by 47%.

“These positive developments did not happen by accident. Thanks to work and leadership from Alabama’s physicians, Governor (Kay) Ivey and legislators, Alabama is on the right track in decreasing the number and potency of opioid prescriptions,” said Dr. Aruna Arora, the president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.

Physicians overprescribing opioids in Alabama has been an ongoing challenge for years. Statistics have shown that Alabama has had one of the highest prescribing rates in the country. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that in 2018, Alabama providers wrote 97.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people.

“We were prescribing more hydrocodone than any other state on a per capita basis,” said Dr. Jerry Harrison, former president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama attributes the new decline in opioid prescriptions to an increase in opioid education, drug monitoring programs and tougher laws.

According to the medical association, physicians and other health care professionals accessed the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program nearly 5.4 million times in 2020 – an increase of 20% from 2019 and more than 63% since 2018.

The Medical Association of the State of Alabama was also one of the first state medical associations in the country to offer an opioid prescribing education course, which has reached more than 8,000 prescribers since 2009.

The Department of Justice has also played a major role in finding doctors who are overprescribing for personal gain.

“At least for the past four or five years we’ve put a lot of effort into identifying people who are prescribing unnecessary opioids,” said Jonathan Ross, assistant U.S. attorney in the Middle District of Alabama.

“Everyone’s come together to identify the worst of the worst and put a lot of time and effort into building cases against those people and ultimately taking the prescription pads away from them and putting them in jail,” Ross said.

The hope is that with continued support from both the law enforcement and medical community, more can be done in the fight against the opioid overuse and addiction problem in Alabama.

“The numbers that you talk about now reflect that the medical community is generally trying to do it’s best, trying to use opioids in a way that’s responsible and helpful to their patient population and I hope that our work has deterred people from going down the roads of doctors who have been prosecuted in the past,” Ross said.

Alabama, like nearly every other state in the nation, continues to see increases in overdose deaths mainly due to illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine and cocaine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overdose deaths in Alabama are now more likely to be caused by illicit drugs rather than opioid prescriptions, according to the Medical Association of the State of Alabama.

Individuals looking for a list of substance abuse treatment services can find them here.

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