They wrote about 230 million prescriptions for opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet in 2013 according to data from IMS Health, a drug market research firm. That’s down about 5% from 2012, when about 241 million prescriptions were written.
“It’s certainly a good thing, but I’m surprised the numbers haven’t dropped more dramatically,” said Lewis Nelson, an emergency physician at the New York University Langone Medical Center. “Especially since there are many more regulatory efforts in place.”
Over the last decade, the use of prescription painkillers has skyrocketed, with many officials calling it an epidemic of addiction to these drugs.
Back in 2010, there were 16,651 overdose deaths attributed to prescription opioids — more than four times as many as the 4,030 deaths in 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those deaths, 30% involved the use of a benzodiazepine, a class of drugs that has seen usage rise similar to opioids.
Despite calls to strengthen controls on opioids, in October the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — acting against the recommendation of its own advisory panel — approved the new hydrocodone-only opioid, Zohydro. It will come in six doses starting at 10 mg and going up to 50 mg.
Last week, a coalition of more than 40 groups and individuals called on FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg to revoke the agency’s approval of Zohydro.
“In the midst of a severe drug epidemic fueled by overprescribing of opioids, the very last thing this country needs is a new dangerous, high-dose opioid,” they wrote.