Easy access to prescriptions for opioid painkillers put many people on the path to addiction. That is known. But, thanks to drastic reductions in marketing of painkillers, they no longer are the major factor they were at one time, say some analysts.
Not so fast. There may be some truth to that contention, but a strong link between opioid painkillers and drug abuse persists.
Federal authorities had been urged for years to crack down on production and marketing of opioid drugs. Finally, last year, the Drug Enforcement Administration agreed to require substantial cuts in manufacturing of some opioid drugs — but only after West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey filed a lawsuit against the agency.
DEA officials now propose limits that would reduce hydrocodone manufacturing by 19% and cut oxycodone by 8.8%. Morrisey believes that will result in “real progress in the battle against opioid abuse.”
But opioid drug production statistics illustrate just how bad the problem was — and still may be in some places. According to Morrisey, preliminary estimates are that about 32 million doses of hydrocodone will be dispensed in West Virginia this year. That compares to 99 million in 2011.
Another number shows the link between substance abuse and painkillers. In 2017, the most recent year for which the National Institute on Drug Abuse had figures, West Virginia recorded the second-highest rate of opioid prescriptions written, at 81.3 per 100 residents (obviously, many people obtained multiple prescriptions). Our state had and continues to have the highest rate of opioid-involved drug overdoses in the nation.
Restricted access to prescription painkillers, combined with the relatively high price of them, have driven some addicts to street suppliers of illicit drugs. Fewer people are becoming hooked because of irresponsible prescribing of painkillers. So progress is being made.
Clearly, however, there is more to do to sever the link between prescription painkillers and addiction.