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Health & Science

AMA: Opioid Prescriptions Down Significantly in W.Va. But Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise

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A summary of the AMA’s 2021 Overdose Report is available here. 

For the last 10 years, task forces organized by the American Medical Association have been studying overdose deaths in the United States.

The 2021 Overdose Epidemic Report is based on numbers through January 2021. It shows that opioid prescriptions have decreased each year, but deaths continue to rise.

In West Virginia, opioid prescriptions decreased by 64 percent between 2011-2020, including a 10 percent decrease from 2019-2020. Yet, West Virginia continues to see increases in overdoses, mainly due to illicit fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, methamphetamine and cocaine, the study found.

Nationwide, according to provisional data, there were 94,134 overdose deaths last year. In the last decade, there was a 44 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions. Those dipped from 258 million in 2011 to 143 million in 2020.

Harm reduction and other community-based organizations distributed more than 3.7 million doses of naloxone between 2017–2020. The medication reverses the effects of an overdose. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of individuals filling naloxone prescriptions from retail pharmacies decreased more than 26 percent.

The AMA made several recommendations with its study. They included:

  • Remove barriers to evidence-based care for patients with a substance use disorder. 
  • Remove barriers to treatment for substance use disorder and co-occurring mental illness in the nation’s jails and prisons. 
  • Increase access to evidence-based care rather than using punishment and the threat of family separation for persons who are pregnant, peripartum, postpartum and parenting. 
  • Support increased efforts to expand sterile needle and syringe exchange services programs, decriminalize drug checking supplies (e.g., fentanyl test strips) and urge manufacturers to make Naloxone available over the counter. 
  • Ensure opioid litigation funds are used only for public health purposes.

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