There is some good news in the fight against opioid abuse in Illinois. Doctors prescribed fewer opioids to patients in 2017 than 2016, according to numbers from the statewide prescription monitoring program. The database can’t track illegal narcotic use, but the drop in prescriptions is still widely seen as a good sign as the majority of heroin users say their first experience with opioids came from a prescription drug.
Illinois has one of the oldest prescription monitoring programs in the country, and created systems to track the use of controlled substances in the 1960s. The database tracks all opioid prescriptions filled in the state. A portion of that data is made available to the public, broken down by county.
All counties in Illinois showed a decrease in overall opioid prescriptions as compared to the population. The five counties with the biggest drop were Franklin, Edwards, Montgomery, Edgar and Massac counties.
Because opioid prescriptions cannot be written with refills, one patient can account for multiple prescriptions without it being abuse. For example, after a patient’s initial 30-day prescription runs out and their doctor wants to continue treatment, the doctor has to write a separate prescription. That single patient would account for two prescriptions in the opioid database. That helps explain how five counties in Southern Illinois have more opioid prescriptions than they do people.
By comparing the 2016 and 2017 numbers from the database with population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, it’s possible to get an overview of how opioid prescribing is changing in Illinois.
Not only are prescriptions dropping, but the number of patients getting those narcotics is also dropping. Not a single county saw an increase in the percentage of the population with opioid prescriptions. The top five counties with the biggest drop in patient population were Hamilton, Edwards, Warren, Montgomery and Massac.
There are some worrisome stats from the database. The majority of Illinois counties showed an increase in the number of prescriptions written for each patient. Only 15 counties showed a decrease in the number of scripts written per patient. The county with the biggest drop was Wabash county. The county with the biggest increase in the amount of prescriptions per patient was Alexander.
Finally, while reporting prescriptions to the database has been mandatory for decades, doctors have not been required to check it before prescribing an opioid until this year. Starting in January, however, doctors who dispense controlled substances have been required to check the database before writing an initial prescription. This is meant to attempt to stop patients from changing doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions. There are only two exceptions, for palliative care and short-term prescriptions treating an acute injury.