CDC infographic opioids
Infographic by CDC
In 2012 health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers — equaling a bottle of pills per American adult —according to data released by the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention on Tuesday.

CDC Director Tom Frieden said in the agency’s July Vital Signs telebriefing that in this past decade, the number of prescriptions written have increased by 400 percent. With the surge in painkiller prescriptions, the U.S. has also seen an increase in deaths due to opioid and narcotic painkiller overdoses.

The agency reported the “overdose epidemic” in 2012, with increased death rates in several states from the late 1990s. In 2010 women had five times the number of prescription drug overdoses than they did in 1999. In 2011 prescription painkiller overdoses surpassed deaths from heroin and cocaine combined

“We know that overdose deaths tend to be higher where opioids get heavier use,” Frieden said. “So you can see really two correlations. One, over time, over the past decade or more, there’s been a dramatic increase in the amount of opioids prescribed and two, across the country, there are dramatic differences.”

One difference is in painkiller prescriptions by state, with some state health care providers prescribing painkillers up to three times more frequently than others. Ten of the highest prescribing states are concentrated in the South.

“What type of pain treatment you get shouldn’t depend on where you live but on the condition that you have,” Frieden said.

CDC reported that health care providers across the country do not have a collective prescribing guideline, leading to regional disparities. However, Florida was able to reduce prescriptions and subsequently reduce painkiller overdoses rates. In 2010 and 2011 the state implemented stricter laws to stop health care providers from dispensing painkillers at regulated pain clinics. Prescriptions declined by 50 percent and deaths from prescription opioid drugs decreased by over a 25 percent. Its overall drug abuse rates have decreased by 17 percent in only two years.

CDC supports state collaborations to create a set of prescribing guidelines, while providing information to physicians about the risks of overprescribing.