By Pat Anson, PNN Editor
Opioid prescriptions in the United States fell by 12 percent in the first eight months of 2018 and will decline even further in coming years, according to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
“We now have the lowest opioid prescription rates in 18 years. And we’re going to bring them a lot lower,” Sessions said in prepared remarks at the National Opioid Summit in Washington, DC.
Opioid prescriptions have indeed been falling for many years, but the trend appears to be accelerating as many doctors lower doses, write fewer prescriptions, or simply discharge and refuse to treat chronic pain patients.
Sessions pledged to continue fighting “the deadliest drug crisis in American history” by reducing opioid prescriptions by another third over the next three years. That’s in addition to a 44% reduction in opioid production that the DEA began in 2016.
Sessions also promised to step up efforts against healthcare professionals alleged to have overprescribed opioids. He said the Trump Administration has charged 226 doctors and 221 medical personnel with “opioid-related crimes.”
“These numbers will continue to rise,” Sessions predicted, because of new federal prosecutors and a data analytics team focused on tracking opioid prescriptions.
“This team follows the numbers—like which doctors are writing opioid prescriptions at a rate that far exceeds their peers; how many of a doctor's patients have died within 60 days of an opioid prescription; and pharmacies that are dispensing disproportionately large amounts of opioids,” Sessions said.
“They will help us find the doctors, pharmacists, and other medical professionals who are flooding our streets with drugs—and put them behind bars.”
At no point in his speech did Sessions discuss the impact the opioid crackdown was having on millions of chronic pain patients, who are increasingly bedridden or disabled due to lack of access to effective pain care. Earlier this year, Sessions suggested they should “tough it out” by taking aspirin.
While opioid prescriptions have fallen dramatically in recent years, they’ve yet to have much of an impact on the nation’s overdose rate. Preliminary estimates released by the CDC this week show a modest 2.3% decline in opioid overdose deaths from September 2017 to March 2018. Over 48,000 people died from opioid overdoses during that period, with most of those deaths involving illicit fentanyl, heroin and other opioid street drugs, not prescription opioids.
Sessions said the Justice Department was taking “unprecedented action” against fentanyl traffickers at home and abroad, including the recent indictments of three Chinese nationals and dozens of Mexican drug traffickers.
“China could do more to stop these drugs from coming here. Frankly, they’re not doing enough. They must do more,” he said.