Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Support NHPR and you could win a trip to Costa Rica!

Report: Opioid Prescriptions Declined By 15 Percent in N.H. Last Year


New Hampshire saw a 15 percent drop in opioid prescriptions between 2016 and 2017 — the largest drop, in percentage points, of any state in the country — according to a new report from the healthcare research firm IQVIA.

IQVIA's Institute for Human Data Science looked at opioid prescribing rates across the country for a new report tracking healthcare use and spending

(Scroll down for an interactive chart with more details on New Hampshire's prescribing data and how it compares to other states.)

As part of their research, IQVIA found the number of opioid prescriptions dropped by about 22 percent nationwide between 2013 and 2017.  
They attribute the shifts in prescribing practices to a number of factors, including “changes in clinical usage, which have been influenced by regulatory and reimbursement policies and legislation that have been increasingly restricting prescription opioid use.”

A spokesperson for IQVIA says the firm gathered data from a variety of sources, including “national pharmacy chains, big-box pharmacies, hospital/clinical settings as well as medical claims data from insurers.” The report also states that it was compiled “without industry or government funding.”

For its state-by-state prescribing rates, IQVIA breaks its data down in terms of individual opioid prescriptions, not dosage units. In New Hampshire, their data shows a 33.2 percent decline in retail-filled opioid prescriptions over the last five years — from 970,834 in 2013 to 648,791 in 2017.

Looking at raw numbers alone, many states saw larger declines in New Hampshire over the same time period, but many of those states also have larger populations. When measuring the declines proportionally for each individual state, however, New Hampshire ranks at the top of the list.

The only states experiencing larger proportional drop-offs during the same time period were West Virginia (where opioid prescriptions declined 37 percent) and Rhode Island (where they declined 33.6 percent).

Jim Potter, executive vice president for the New Hampshire Medical Society, credits relatively new opioid prescribing guidelines as one of the main reasons for the decline.

“We think the combination of what we think is one of the more reasonable laws and rules in the nation, combined with a lot of education and more proactive work on treatment and recovery services, helped us be in this position this year,” Potter said.

Former Gov. Maggie Hassan proposed an overhaul of the state’s opioid prescribing guidelines in the fall of 2015 but was met with resistance from the Board of Medicine and others who argued the proposal could end up harming those who rely on opioids for treatment of chronic pain. 

The board later enacted its own set of emergency rules, dismissing much of Hassan's proposal, but committed to working on a more permanent set of guidelines with input from the governor and other policymakers. 

After nearly a year of back-and-forth between the medical community and lawmakers, the state finalized a new set of opioid prescribing rules at the end of 2016.

Those new rules, among other things, advise against issuing opioid prescriptions in emergency settings for more than seven days at a time and require physicians to conduct risk assessments on chronic pain patients to screen for signs of potential misuse. 

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

You make NHPR possible.

NHPR is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.