By R Carter
The link to the interactive map above, is at the end of this article. Note some mobile devices will not be able to display popup data with dosage amounts and state population. The report is best viewed on a regular computer.
As some of you may know, in late 2018, early 2019 the Washington Post successfully completed litigating a release of opioid pill data from the DEA and then made a portion of that data available to the general public. CERGM has obtained a copy and for the last two months, has incorporated it into a database and reporting system so that reports can be deployed on this blog. At the moment, only static reports are available, but as time progresses, we plan to provide interactive reports which will allow patrons to generate reports for the areas where they live, down to populations centers as small as 10,000 people in some cases.
There were more than 185 million records in that database spanning 2006 – 2012, each record representing a seller and buyer for either Hydrocodone or Oxycodone. This includes pharmacies, both retail and mail order, hospitals, out patient surgery centers, physician clinics, dentist and veterinary medicine clinics. That data has been combined with population estimates from the US Census Bureau to make the calculations seen in this report.
Since CERGM exists to support the chronic pain community, we’ve taken a different tact on reporting this data. While most report the number of pills, usually in the millions for a geographic location, we found this perspective lacking in its ability to relate to how individuals actually use such medication and how it is prescribed. For that reason we will endeavor to report this data as average number of monthly scripts written, at a specific dosage level, for a given geographic population.
The Chronic Pain Community is Larger than We Knew
There have been many numbers reported on how many Americans are chronic pain patients receiving daily treatment with opioids. Estimates have run from as low as two million to as high as one hundred million. Having the data reported as monthly scripts, at a specific dosage, gives the reader better insight into how large the chronic pain community really is. I believe many of you will be surprised by how large of a group we are.
And while I fully expect some anti-opioid zealots to claim that these numbers represent unnecessary or illegal prescribing, I encourage readers to be mindful of what their individual state is reporting with regards to number of pills currently prescribed and the fact that in most state, prescribing has not decreased by much more than 13% since 2012, while over dose rates continue to set new records and IMF (Illegally Manufactured Fentanyl) is found in 63% of all opioid overdose deaths.
Knowledge is Power
I continue to believe that for the most part, chronic pain patients are honest, ethical and responsible consumers of prescribed medications. And that their treatment by public health or prescribers, through forced tapers and termination, is an unjustified and callous act of self-preservation or ideological bias.
For these reasons, data will most often be reported as it is here. For example, on this first report when you hover your mouse over a state, you will see a popup which displays the number of people (or state population) per script written, at a daily dose of 30, 50, 90, 120 and 150 MME per day. Having the data presented as daily dosages for a thirty day supply of medication, we believe, makes it easier for people to relate to how many individuals are part of the chronic pain community. That we are a larger block of individuals, who share a common need and goal than most have imagined. And for these reasons, it is a failure on the part of our elected officials to ignore the plight we have suffered by exaggerated claims.