A new report from the Centers for Disease Control says Mississippi is sixth in the nation when it comes to painkiller prescriptions, with health care providers in the state write 120 opiod painkiller prescriptions for every 100 people.
The CDC says 46 people die each day from prescription painkiller overdoses in the U.S., including drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet.
The Center for Mississippi Health Policy examined drug overdose deaths in the state in a report released last year. The center found many of those who died had a history of prescription painkiller use. The study examined 232 unintentional drug overdose deaths in 2011.Signe Shackeford, a policy analyst at the center, says they were able to identify 180 prescription monitoring program records among the 232 people who died. Of those 180 people, 96% had a prescription for at least one opiod painkiller in the two years priot to death.
"It seems to us in terms of potential policy interventions, that this is a spigot issue," Shackelford says. "If the supply of these controlled substances was a little better controled at the prescription pad, we might see an impact on fatalities in Mississippi."
Mississippi has a prescription drug monitoring program, one of the recommended ways to control the supply of painkillers. The State Board of Medical Licensure requires doctors to sign up with the program, but it doesn’t mandate they use it every time they write a prescription. The board also now requires prescription-related training.
Dr. Randy Easterling is a member of the state board. He says the program is used widely but not as widely as it should be.
"It doesn't have to be used every time you write a scheduled drug," he says. "But if you've got a patient that you're writing scheduled medication for, especially opiods, on a regular basis, then you need to check a prescription monitoring program frequently on those patients to make sure they're not doctor shopping or getting medications from other providers."
Frank Gammill, executive director of the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy, notes that while the medical board requires doctors to register with the prescription monitoring program, which was started in 2007, the state nursing and dental boards don't have those regulations.
He says 7,000 people are currently registered with the program. After the medical board instituted the registration requirement and the program's software changed to a more user-friendly version last year, daily reports have gone from 2,000 to 5,000 a month in the last six months, Gammill says.
Dr. Easterling, who practices family and addiction medicine in Vicksburg, says one of the drawbacks of the prescription monitoring programs is that states don’t share information.
"My office is five miles from Lousiana," he says. "Someone can get a prescription filled in Louisianam and it won't show up on the PMP in Mississippi. And, of course, Mississippi also borders Alabama, Arkansas and Tennessee. So all states have this problem with border states."
The CDC says 10 of the highest prescribing states are in the south. The top 2 states: Alabama and Tennessee. Louisiana and Arkansas rank 7th and 8th.