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Half of all opioid prescriptions can be traced to just one percent of drug providers

Researchers say efforts to change the opioid industry should focus on these companies

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Photo (c) Aleksandr_Gromov - Getty Images
As the risk of an opioid overdose continues to cause concern for consumers, researchers have now made an interesting discovery in the world of prescription drugs. 

According to a new study, researchers have found that nearly 50 percent of all opioid prescriptions can be traced back to just one percent of drug providers. 

“Most prescriptions written throughout by the majority of providers are below recommended thresholds, suggesting that most U.S. providers are careful in their prescribing,” the researchers wrote. “However, a small portion of providers account for a highly disproportionate proportion of opioids.”

Tracking the trends

To understand the logistics behind opioid prescriptions, the researchers evaluated private insurance coverage for more than 60 million people across the country. This information gave the researchers data on opioid prescriptions, allowing them to track where the drugs were coming from and who they were going to. 

The researchers explained that a standard opioid prescription for pain management will recommend that patients take 50 morphine milligram equivalents (MMEs) per day for no more than one full week. 

With that figure in mind, the study revealed that not only had many patients received access to much higher doses, but nearly half of all prescriptions were doled out by just one percent of all opioid providers. Findings showed that much of the remaining 99 percent were following opioid guidelines, with the large majority of these providers prescribing patients lower daily doses across fewer days. 

However, drug providers in that top one percent were found to disregard both of those measures, as over 80 percent of their prescriptions were for longer than one week; nearly 50 percent surpassed the 50 MMEs per day dosage. 

Curbing the opioid epidemic

This information is crucial when thinking about the opioid epidemic across the U.S. and how patients could unknowingly be taking higher doses of this powerful drug. 

While opioid-related guidelines have received some pushback from healthcare providers, the researchers think that future changes to regulations should be targeted to the top one percent of drug providers, as this study revealed that the overwhelming majority of the health care industry is responsibly administering opioids to their patients. 

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