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Prescription Painkiller Deaths Slowing Down, CDC Finds

Mary K. Caffrey
Deaths from overdoses of prescription painkillers are not rising as quickly, but the reasons for that trend are unclear and could be linked to the legalization of marijuana, according to reports released today.
Deaths from overdoses of prescription painkillers are not rising as quickly, but the reasons for that trend are unclear and could be linked to the legalization of marijuana, according to reports released today.

This morning’s announcement from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that deaths from prescription painkillers rose just 3 percent from 2007 to 2011, after climbing 18 percent from 1999 through 2006, seemed liked good news. But analysts pointed out that as several states have approved medical marijuana laws, those that have report 25 percent fewer deaths from painkiller overdoses, according to research from Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Deaths from prescription painkillers have been a major public health issue for some time and a major concern to managed care organizations, which have researched how to spot potential abuse.

A study published in August 2013 by The American Journal of Managed Care outlined several key indicators that health plans could use to spot the potential for opioid abuse, which included having more than one painkiller prescription, or having overlapping prescriptions. Alarmingly, a quarter of the patients in the study had at least one indicator for abuse.

CDC’s analysis, meanwhile, links the falling death rate to declining use of methadone, well known for its use of helping heroin users kick the habit, but also prescribed as a painkiller. In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration called for more limited use of the drug.

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