One in five Americans are prescribed opioids

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

More than one in five people were prescribed an opioid painkiller at least once in 2015 — at least among those insured by Blue Cross and Blue Shield:

The report, which covers 30 million people with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance in 2015, supports what experts have been saying: much, if not most, of the opioid overdose epidemic is being driven by medical professionals who are prescribing the drugs too freely.

“Twenty-one percent of Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) commercially insured members filled at least one opioid prescription in 2015,” the report says. “Data also show BCBS members with an opioid use disorder diagnosis spiked 493 percent over a seven year period.”

The report excludes people with cancer or terminal illnesses. What it found fits in with similar surveys of people with Medicare, Medicaid or other government health insurance, said Dr. Trent Haywood, chief medical officer for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association (BCSBA).


  1. Bruce Charlton says:

    I am suspicious of this media campaign against opioids.

    The fact is that they are the *only* powerful painkillers, they are long since off patent, and nobody makes much money from them. There haven’t been any new classes of painkillers since non-aspirin NSAIDs many decades ago…

    For many people the plain choice is severe pain – or opioids.

    However, there are apparently some (on patent, expensive, dubiously effective) painkillers in the Big Pharma pipeline, which will soon need marketing.

    My suspicion is that all these stories about opioid addiction are part of the process of clearing the market for the new drugs.

    (Genuine progress would be welcome, of course! But in the past two or three decades Big Pharma has made extremely few effective new drugs. And ‘yet’ has made billions from, and flooded the market with, drugs that are inferior to existing off-patent drugs. eg ‘Atypical Antipsychotics’ which are metabolic toxins and cause massively increased death rates from physical illnesses and suicide (and are prescribed to young children, teens and vast numbers of adults. Abilify was the biggest grossing drug in the world a couple of years ago 6 billion dollars p/a).

    Reports like the one below read as advertising copy, not science:

  2. Sushi Musashi says:

    Bruce Charlton:

    I think that the opiate abuse problem in America is real, even if the crisis narrative is being pushed for cynical commercial reasons. I have a friend who used to be hooked on painkillers, and the circumstances leading up to his addiction were almost exactly what you would hear described in any news article about “the white death.” By the way,. do you think that the advertising blitz for anti-constipation drugs (targeted towards opiate users) is part of the anti-opiates propaganda effort? Or just a way of cashing in on the massive target market that probably now exists?

  3. Bruce Charlton says:

    Yes, but to describe a crisis implies we know an overall better way of doing things. All psychoactive drugs cause dependence, without exception, including drugs which make most people feel bad, such as antipsychotics and anticonvulsants or mood stabilizers. Dependence is the cost of treatment, in the long term. (Of course, dependence can be broken, usually, by tapering dose and waiting for the brain to readjust, so a large majority can stop most psychoactive drugs, but there is an unavoidable withdrawal process.) The question is whether it is a cost that is overall worth paying. There is certainly a massive and damaging over-treatment of depression and bipolar (something between 10- and 100-fold overprescription), but this is profitable, and such treatments are actively being increased. That is a big issue. Treatment of pain? Well, less likely. Dosing children and adults with sex hormones and surgically mutilating them? Well, that is officially good, and to disagree is evil and indeed illegal. So why are we talking of an opiate crisis? The real reason is unrelated to reality.

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