Health

California doctors prescribing fewer opioid painkillers

The CDC says the big differences in rates of painkiller prescriptions can’t be caused solely by variations in health conditions.
The CDC says the big differences in rates of painkiller prescriptions can’t be caused solely by variations in health conditions.
Courtesy of the CDC

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California doctors prescribe fewer opioid painkillers than any state except Hawaii, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC says that in 2012, doctors in California wrote 57 prescriptions for drugs like Oxycontin and Vicodin for every 100 people.

That may sound like a lot, but Alabama and Tennessee – which led the country in opioid prescriptions – had a rate two-and-a-half times that. More prescriptions are associated with more overdoses and deaths. 

Twelve states had a prescription rate of at least 100 for every 100 people.

The new report says those big differences can’t be caused solely by variations in health conditions. It says they could be a result of people who prescribe – and use – painkillers non-medically. They could also be a symptom of a lack of consensus among doctors regarding when to use prescription painkillers, and how much to provide.

State policies can play a role in preventing overprescribing of painkillers, and experts say that’s why California has a relatively low prescription rate.

California has one of the oldest prescription monitoring programs in the country, according to Dr. Karen Miotto, head of UCLA's addiction psychiatry service. In its report, the CDC recommends increasing the use of these programs, which track painkiller prescriptions and help highlight over prescribing problems.

Also, California state agencies, medical schools, and medical societies are all promoting education and vigilance regarding opioids, Miotto said.

"I think there is a growing consensus that we need a balanced approach to treating the people suffering, but not to prescribe it for less severe pain – to be very vigilant when we’re using it for non-cancer or non-terminal pain," she said.