Opioid prescriptions are dropping in Massachusetts, health data shows

Massachusetts doctors prescribed fewer opioid prescriptions over the past year and a half, a promising sign in a region racked by the opioid crisis, according to an analysis of electronic health records by AthenaHealth.

The rate of Massachusetts patients being prescribed opioids dropped 25 percent from the first quarter of 2015 to the second quarter of 2016, from 7 percent to 5.2 percent of patients, the analysis shows. In addition, the rate of patients prescribed opioids on a national level dropped 13 percent in that same time period.

The analysis relied on prescribing rates from 890 physicians and 500,000 patients in Massachusetts that use the AthenaHealth electronic medical record network.


The news comes amid a heightened awareness among the medical community of the risks of abuse when prescribing opioid drugs for pain relief. The Center for Disease Control has identified overdoses from prescription pain relievers as the “driving factor” in the sharp increase in opioid overdose deaths over the past 15 years.

State legislators passed an extensive opioid law in March that limited initial opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply. However, experts said the public’s general awareness of the opioid crisis—exemplified most recently by the overdose death of Prince—may be more relevant to understanding these results.

“The press coverage has influence on providers, as well as the public,” Stephen W. Patrick, an assistant professor of pediatrics and health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told AthenaHealth. “How might just the conversation that happens change behaviors for both providers, and for patients?”


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