West Virginia announced that last year state pharmacies saw their biggest decline in controlled substance dispensing since the state started tracking such a thing in 2001. They also reported that the number of fatal drug overdoses continued to increase. If legal prescription opioids are decreasing, illegal opioids like heroin and fentanyl are not, which may be contributing to the increase in overdose deaths.
In 2017 the total number of doses of prescribed controlled substances like oxycodone decreased by 31 million, dropping from 267.2 in 2016 to 235.9 million doses in 2017, or a decrease of 11.7 percent. Hydrocodone, the most prescribed painkiller, fell by 8.4 million doses and oxycodone prescriptions fell by 9.3 million. Buprenorphine doses increased by 1 million doses. Buprenorphine is used in treating addiction.
West Virginia leads the country in overdose deaths per capita. There were 884 overdoses in 2016, and the West Virginia Board of Pharmacy’s annual report says that the 2017 numbers may be even higher. Overdoses from illegal drugs are increasing. The state reported 350 fentanyl related overdose deaths in 2016, seven times the number reported in 2014.
Mike Goff, the acting executive director of the West Virginia pharmacy board said that if a prescription narcotic contributed to an overdose death, doctors and pharmacies who filled the prescriptions are receiving letters to inform them that their patient died of an overdose. They keep track of providers with large numbers of patients that overdose, and looking for possible signs of overprescribing. The board receives a notification if a patient sees eight or more doctors and visits five different pharmacies in a six month timespan, and in turn they notify the providers.
There is pending legislation in the state that would limit initial prescriptions to a seven-day supply for short term pain, but that limit wouldn’t apply to cancer and hospice patients.
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