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N.H. Ranks High In Prescriptions For Addictive Painkillers

Steve Smith via Flickr CC

New Hampshire doctors are among the nation’s most prolific prescribers of Oxycontin and other opioids, according to a government report released Tuesday that analyzed the state-by-state use of highly addictive painkillers.

The study by the Centers for Disease Control ranked the Granite State third, behind Maine and Delaware, for per-capita prescriptions of Oxycontin, fentanyl and other long-acting opioids in 2012, even as the state ranked relatively low – 39th – for overall opioid prescribing.

Long-acting or extended-release opioids are more prone to abuse.

New Hampshire ranked 7th in the use of so-called high-dose opioids, which are prescribed for chronic pain and are more likely to result in overdose. The state ranked 21st in the use of benzodiazepines, a type of sedative used to treat anxiety and insomnia, often in combination with opioids.

State health officials say there is an epidemic of prescription-drug abuse in New Hampshire. Between 2000 and 2011, the number of drug-related deaths annually quadrupled to 200 - 80 percent of which involved prescription drugs, usually opioids such as oxycodone and methadone.

Meanwhile, state-funded treatment programs have seen a 60 percent increase in patients admitted for oxycodone addiction, and the growing number of people dependent on the drug and other prescription opioids has been blamed for a recent spike in heroin overdoses.

The CDC study found that the US consumes opioid painkillers at a greater rate than any other nation – twice as much as Canada, the second ranking country. Physicians and other providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012, enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills.

The 10 highest prescribing states overall are the in South, led by Alabama, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Researchers offered no explanation for the regional variation in opioid prescribing practices, although the study noted one possibility: the lack of medical consensus on the use of opioids for chronic, non-cancer pain.

The study recommended prescription drug monitoring programs, or PMPs, as one way for states determine the factors that drive high rates of opioid abuse.

State officials recently awarded a contract to begin collecting data for New Hampshire's PMP, which is aimed at preventing people from visiting multiple physicians for prescriptions that are then filled at different pharmacies. 

The program is expected to be up and running by fall. 

Meanwhile, New England governors have promised to develop a regional strategy to address opioid abuse, including allowing each state to access the others' PMPs.

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