How Many Opioids Does Your County Prescribe?

And what can be done to stem the crisis.

As countless news reports have likely told you by now, America has a serious opioid problem, and one map is illustrating the extent of the issue by examining opioid prescriptions county by county.



John Templon, BuzzFeed

The map below, which was created by BuzzFeed's John Templon, is troubling to say the least. It shows counties in most states (and sometimes multiple counties per state) prescribed upwards of 1,100 MME (morphine milligram equivalents, a way to calculate the total amount of opioids by accounting for differences in opioid drug type and strength) per capita in 2015. 

As noted by Buzzfeed, approximately two million Americans have a substance abuse disorders involving prescription pain pills. The relative ease with which people can obtain these strong and addictive medications is a large part of the ongoing problem.

According to a new report from the CDC, providers in the highest prescribing counties prescribed six times more opioids per person than the lowest prescribing counties in 2015. Though half of US counties had a decrease in the amount of opioids prescribed per person from 2010 to 2015, the MME prescribed per person in 2015 was about three times as high as it was in 1999. In other words, opioid over prescription and abuse is still an issue.

CDC
CDC

"We're in the midst of the worst drug addiction epidemic in United States history, but we are still massively overprescribing," addiction specialist Andrew Kolodny told NPR.

CDC
CDC

Though the rate of prescribing pills nationwide in 2015 was lower than the prescription rate in 2010, a separate CDC report indicates opioids (including prescription opioids and heroin) killed more than 33,000 people in 2015.

Thankfully, there are advocacy groups working to address the crisis. One such group is Advocates for the Reform of Prescription Opioids, which is a binational organization in the U.S. and Canada comprised of people who have been adversely affected by the consequences of the massive over-prescribing of prescription opioid pain pills. ARPO works with key lawmakers in both Canada and the U.S. to end the current opioid health crisis by ensuring opioids are used with care and selectivity.

Speaking of lawmakers, they're doing their part as well. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation back in February aimed at curbing the state's opioid addiction epidemic by limiting initial opioid prescriptions to a five-day supply, making New Jersey's the most stringent limit in the country.

On the federal level, then-President Barack Obama signed a bill into law last July to address the country's ever-growing opioid epidemic. Known as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, Forbes reports the legislation made naxalone, (a drug given to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, more available, bolstered prescription drug monitoring programs and broadened prevention efforts.

"This legislation includes some modest steps to address the opioid epidemic," Obama said in a statement at the time. "Given the scope of this crisis, some action is better than none."

Cover image via PureRadiancePhoto / Shutterstock.

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