Pennsylvania Second Nationally In Decline Of Opioid Prescriptions

Last Updated: Jun 4, 2018

FOR RELEASE: June 4, 2018
CONTACT:  Jeff Wirick, Pennsylvania Medical Society, (717) 909-2651

HARRISBURG, Pa. - Pennsylvania saw the second highest drop nationally in the number of opioid prescriptions in 2017, according to data released May 31 by the American Medical Association (AMA).
pills-opioids-prescription-articleOpioid prescriptions declined by 9 percent in the U.S. overall between 2016 and 2017. Pennsylvania experienced an even steeper drop at 14 percent, ranking just behind New Hampshire (15.1 percent).
“While the report shows how physician leadership is advancing the fight against the opioid epidemic, both nationally and in Pennsylvania, we know there is much work left to do before we can turn the tide,” said John Gallagher, MD, chair of the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s (PAMED) Opioid Task Force. 

Patrice Harris, MD, MA, chair of the AMA’s Opioid Task Force, said: “What is needed now is a concerted effort to greatly expand access to high-quality care for pain and for substance use disorders. Unless and until we do that, this epidemic will not end.”
The AMA report found:
  • Opioid prescribing decreases for fifth year in a row. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of opioid prescriptions decreased by more than 55 million — a 22.2 percent decrease nationally. Pennsylvania has seen a five-year drop of 27.9 percent.
  • PDMP registration and use continues to increase. Pennsylvania passed a PAMED-supported law that strengthened its prescription drug monitoring program. Use of the commonwealth’s PDMP increased dramatically in 2017, spiking from 2.3 million queries in 2016 to 12.7 million queries in 2017.
  • Physicians enhancing their education. According to the AMA, nearly 550,000 physicians and other health care professionals from across the U.S. took continuing medical education (CME) classes and other education and training in pain management, substance use disorders and related areas. In Pennsylvania, nearly 6,000 physicians completed more than 22,000 online CME courses created by PAMED in the first five months of 2018.
  • Access to naloxone rising. Naloxone prescriptions more than doubled nationally in 2017, from approximately 3,500 to 8,000 naloxone prescriptions dispensed weekly. PAMED supported Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s standing order that expanded access to naloxone in the commonwealth in 2015.
  • Treatment capacity increasing. As of May this year, there were more than 50,000 physicians from around the U.S. certified to provide buprenorphine in office for the treatment of opioid use disorders — a 42.4-percent increase in the past 12 months.
“We encourage policymakers to take a hard look at why patients continue to encounter barriers to accessing high quality care for pain and for substance use disorders,” said Dr. Harris. “This report underscores that while progress is being made in some areas, our patients need help to overcome barriers to multimodal, multidisciplinary pain care, including non-opioid pain care, as well as relief from harmful policies such as prior authorization and step therapy that delay and deny evidence-based care for opioid use disorder.”

To further address the opioid epidemic, the AMA and PAMED urge policymakers and insurers to remove barriers to care for pain and substance use disorders. These steps include:
  • All public and private payers should ensure that their formularies include all FDA-approved forms of medication assisted treatment (MAT) and remove administrative barriers to treatment, including prior authorization.
  • Policymakers and regulators should increase oversight and enforcement of parity laws for mental health and substance use disorders to ensure patients receive the care that they need.
  • All public and private payers—as well as pharmacy benefit management companies—must ensure that patients have access to affordable, non-opioid pain care.
  • We can all help put an end to stigma. Patients with pain or substance use disorders deserve the same care and compassion as any other patient with a chronic medical condition.


Leave a comment
  1. Asit Upadhyay | Jun 07, 2018
    Is there any data on possible reduction of illicit opioid and opioid prescription related overdoses and deaths.  Is the implementation of the CDC guidelines taking affect? 
  2. Steve Karp | Jun 07, 2018
    Of course the querying increased. We were instructed that we have to do it. If you force people to do something then most of them do it. Naloxone should only be available in ambulances and the hospital.

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