2016 National Progress Report Points to New Tools to Combat Opioid Abuse

June 20, 2017

Claiming the lives of 91 Americans each day, America’s opioid epidemic is a national public health crisis.i State governments are increasingly taking action through a combination of public policy, technology adoption and education initiatives, as evidenced by the surge of mandates across the country. Surescripts 2016 National Progress Report shows that while e-prescribing is one of the most powerful tools available to fight prescription painkiller fraud and abuse, there are many factors at play.

Controlling Access to Opioids: Pill Counts Matter

The sheer number of opioid pills prescribed in the U.S. annually is staggering. In 2016, pharmacies received 3.71 million e-prescriptions for opioid drugs: 1.73 million for oxycodone-containing medications and 1.98 million for hydrocodone-containing medications. These prescriptions accounted for more than 307 million tablets ordered, and averaged 82.9 tablets per prescription.

An initiative announced by the Obama Administration in March 2015 to combat the opioid epidemic and save lives included a strategy to decrease the volume of pills per prescription. Yet data from the 2016 National Progress Report found that the average pill quantity decreased only slightly last year, from 84.6 per prescription in January to 82.8 per prescription in December.

The largest decrease in pill quantity occurred from March to April, which is when a state mandate for e-prescribing, known as the Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP), went into effect in New York. In 2017, we anticipate a greater decrease in pill quantity, as more physicians and pharmacies use e-prescribing for controlled substances and adhere to best practice guidelines.

Naloxone: A Powerful Antidote

The 2016 National Progress Report also highlights promising results in the prescribing of naloxone, a treatment that quickly reverses the effects of opioid overdose and saves thousands of lives each year. It’s now widely available to first responders in communities with high rates of overdose, and many major pharmacies offer it without a prescription for easy access in emergency situations.

Recent FDA-approved dosage formulations for the drug, including a nasal spray and an auto-injector, are easier to administer outside of a hospital setting. In 2016, we found that nearly 50% of naloxone therapy e-prescriptions were for the auto-injector formulation, and 33% were for the nasal spray formulation.

In addition to making naloxone available in more accessible forms, public education is also contributing to greater use. Following President Obama’s signing of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) in July 2016, an education campaign launched by the federal government led to major media attention and a significant increase in the volume of e-prescriptions for naloxone across all three dosage formulations. After the bill passed, there were 3,779 naloxone prescriptions in August—80% higher than the monthly average.

As the battle against opioid abuse in the U.S. continues, data from the 2016 National Progress Report offers hope that more progress can be made with the solutions that are available today. For a comprehensive overview of our nation’s opioid epidemic, as well as video interviews on how controlling pill volume and naloxone prescriptions can help fight the epidemic, check out the complete 2016 National Progress Report. Also, visit for more information on how physicians and pharmacies can deploy EPCS solutions.

i Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

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