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Here's some heartening news on the opioid painkillers front: Abuse of the prescription medicines in the United States fell by more than one-quarter between 2007 and 2018.
"Prior research has shown slight reductions in abuse rates, but our analysis shows we're tracking statistically significant year-to-year declines in abuse, indicating that the decrease is not an anomaly and truly represents a trend in falling prescription drug abuse levels," said study author Mario Moric, a biostatistician at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
He and his colleagues analyzed data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an annual survey of about 70,000 Americans aged 12 and older who are asked about their use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.
For the study, prescription opioid abuse was defined as use without the consent of a physician.
The percentage of survey respondents who said they'd abused prescription opioids in the previous year fell from 4.9% in 2007 to 3.7% in 2018, a 26% decrease.
There were significant declines in prescription opioid abuse from 2012 to 2018, with the exception of 2015, when higher numbers were reported due to a survey redesign introduced that year, the researchers said.
The findings were to be presented Saturday at the virtual annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
"We believe the message of the dangers of opioid use without supervision of a medical professional is finally getting through and changing people's mindset and behavior," Moric said in a meeting news release.
"Pain medications such as opioids are an important resource in the treatment and care of patients, but they are not a cure-all," said study co-author Dr. Asokumar Buvanendran, chair of the American Society of Anesthesiologists Committee on Pain Medicine and executive vice chair of anesthesiology at Rush University Medical Center.
"Since opioids have risks and can be highly addictive, they should be used only under the supervision of a physician who can consider their safety and how the medication will affect a patient over time," Buvanendran said in the release. "Prescribers and patients are now better armed with the information they need to make educated choices in pain management."
Research presented at meetings is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
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