So this is a hot topic in today’s opiate conscience environment. According the CDC, opiate overdose rates:
70,237 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States in 2017. The age-adjusted rate of overdose deaths increased significantly by 9.6% from 2016 (19.8 per 100,000) to 2017 (21.7 per 100,000). Opioids—mainly synthetic opioids (other than methadone)—are currently the main driver of drug overdose deaths (2).
The article discusses common belief that opiate prescriptions fueled the nation’s opioid crisis and play a major role in overdose deaths (1). That there is a correlation between opiate sales and overdose deaths. That having a opiate prescription is a risk factor for overdose death. The article references a new study (3) that compared opiate overdose toxicology reports with data from state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs).
But a new study by researchers in Massachusetts has turned that theory on its head. Prescription opioids are usually not involved in overdoses. And even when they are, the overdose victim rarely has an active prescription for them – meaning the medications were diverted, stolen or bought on the street (2).
The study itself is called “The Contribution of Prescribed and Illicit Opioids to Fatal Overdoses in Massachusetts, 2013-2015 (3).” They examined opiate related overdose data in Massachusetts. They determined which opioid medications had been prescribed and dispensed and which opioids were detected in postmortem medical examiner toxicology specimens. The results of the study were:
“Of 2916 decedents with complete toxicology reports, 1789 (61.4%) had heroin and 1322 (45.3%) had fentanyl detected in postmortem toxicology reports. Of the 491 (16.8%) decedents with ≥1 opioid prescription active on the date of death, prescribed opioids were commonly not detected in toxicology reports (3).”
The study seems to refute common belief which the article calls ‘myths’ about opiate overdose that “75% of all overdose victims were pain patients who died by taking their opioid medication as prescribed.” Prescription opioids were detected in only 16.5% of the overdoses. The article concluded:
“I think we can see that we don’t just have a prescription opioid problem. We have an illicit opioid problem. And I think our policy should reflect that.”