Opioid Prescriptions Are Still Prolific, But Deaths Fall

Drug Topics JournalDrug Topics September 2019
Volume 163
Issue 9

76 billion opioid pain pills distributed from 2012-2016.

Digital pill data

While new DEA data shows a high volume of opioid prescriptions dispensed via drug stores, the number of opioid deaths has fallen, and pharmacists are working to prevent abuse of painkillers.

Detailed data on distributors and drug store chains was revealed when the DEA’s Automated Reports and Consolidated Ordering System (ARCOS) data was ordered public in a court case. 

According to the ARCOS data, 76 billion opioid pain pills were distributed in the United States from 2012 through 2016. Around half of the pills were distributed by three distributors: McKesson (14.1 billion), Walgreens (12.6 billion), and Cardinal Health (10.7 billion), according to CNN

Despite the high numbers, NACDS President and CEO Steven C. Anderson defended pharmacists’ role in the opioid epidemic. “Every day, pharmacists face a moment of truth when presented with an opioid prescription, making decisions as a provider of patient care and as part of the solution to the opioid-abuse epidemic. Patients understand that community pharmacy is part of the solution, providing trusted advice and quality healthcare services,” Anderson says in a statement.

Pharmacies have a “long-standing and ongoing commitment to working as part of the solution to opioid abuse,” Anderson adds. 

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Despite the DEA data, new numbers from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics found a 5.1% drop in opioid overdose deaths between 2017 and 2018.

“The latest provisional data on overdose deaths show that America’s united efforts to curb opioid use disorder and addiction are working,” says HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a statement. “Under President Trump's leadership, and thanks to efforts on the ground by communities across America, the number of patients receiving medication assisted treatment has risen, distribution of overdose-reversing drugs is up, and nationwide opioid prescriptions are down.”

In addition, drug store chains have implemented several opioid abuse prevention initiatives, including compliance programs, drug disposal, patient education, security initiatives, naloxone access; stopping illegal online drug-sellers and rogue clinics, and philanthropic programs, according to Anderson.

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