Efforts to curb the opioid epidemic seem to be gradually paying off when it comes to the prescribing of opioids. But the problem is only getting worse when it comes to illicit drugs, a new study has found.

The number of opioid prescriptions dropped by about 90 million between 2014 and 2019, a decrease of about 37.1%, according to the Opioid Task Force 2020 Progress Report released by the American Medical Association (AMA).

In the five-year time period, the number of Prescription Drug Monitoring Program registrants increased by more than 1,100%. The program was developed to detect diversion, abuse, and misuse of prescription medications classified as controlled substances. More physicians became certified to treat opioid use disorder (OUD). And, an additional 85,000 physicians plus nurse practitioners and physician assistants became certified to treat people with OUD with buprenorphine, an FDA-approved treatment for opioid addiction. Plus, more than 1 million prescriptions for naloxone, used to reverse the effects of opioid overdose, were written in 2019 — more than double the number in 2018.

While efforts to curb opioid abuse and misuse are proving effective, there was a dramatic increase in overdose deaths linked to illegal opioids, stimulants, heroin, and cocaine. The report also found that there were still barriers to evidence-based care for people who suffer with pain and those with substance use disorder.

The AMA organized the Opioid Task Force in 2014 in an effort to curb the nation’s opioid epidemic. The team includes representatives from more than two dozen national, specialty, and state medical groups committed to providing evidence-based recommendations and leadership to help end the opioid crisis.

Lawyers in Beasley Allen’s Mass Torts Section are representing local governments holding opioid companies accountable for overdose deaths and economic damages in their communities caused by this crisis.

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