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New CDC Vital Signs: Opioid Painkiller Prescribing

Where you live makes a difference

Every day, 46 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers in the U.S. Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have a bottle of pills, according to a new Vital Signs report. Health care providers in some states prescribed far more painkillers than those in other states. Higher prescribing of painkillers is a serious problem because it is associated with more overdose deaths.

  • Prescriptions for opioid painkillers were distributed unevenly throughout the U.S. Health care providers in the highest prescribing state wrote almost three times as many opioid painkiller prescriptions per person as those in the lowest prescribing state. Southern states, especially Alabama, Tennessee, and West Virginia, had the most painkiller prescriptions per person.
  • States can address the overprescribing of painkillers: States can consider ways to increase use of prescription drug monitoring programs (which are state-run databases that track prescriptions for painkillers and can help find problems in overprescribing) and through policy options (including laws and regulation relating to pain clinics to reduce prescribing practices that are risky to patients).
  • Florida is one example of a state that has reversed its overdose trend. After statewide legislative and enforcement actions in 2010 and 2011, painkiller prescribing declined, and the death rate from prescription drug overdose decreased 23 percent by 2012.

Everyone can prevent misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers by never selling or sharing prescription drugs. Get help for substance abuse problems (1-800-662-HELP) and call Poison Help (1-800-222-1222) with questions about medicines. For more information about prescription drug overdoses, please visit CDC's Injury Center.

Contact Information

CDC Media Relations
(404) 639-3286


Tom Frieden, MD, MPH

“Prescription drug overdose is epidemic in the United States. All too often, and in far too many communities, the treatment is becoming the problem,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Overdose rates are higher where these drugs are prescribed more frequently. States and practices where prescribing rates are highest need to take a particularly hard look at ways to reduce the inappropriate prescription of these dangerous drugs."

Tom Frieden, MD, MPH - Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Leonard J. Paulozzi, MD, MPH

“Change at the state level shows the greatest promise. States can consider ways to increase the use of prescription drug monitoring programs and make statewide changes relating to pain clinics. Together we can reduce the risk of overdose, while making sure all patients in all states have access to safe, effective pain treatment."

Leonard J. Paulozzi, MD, MPH - Medical Epidemiologist, Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention, NCIPC

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