Opioid deaths increased as the rate of prescriptions fell

Opioid deaths increased as the rate of prescriptions fell

CLEVELAND, Ohio — In the days leading up to last month’s U.S. nation’s first major drug court. District Court in Cleveland, pharmaceutical industry lawyers have been fighting to keep Travis Bornstein off the stand of the witness.

We didn’t want a jury to hear the story of how after two surgeries, Bornstein’s son Tyler, a former college golfer and Uniontown high school honors student, became addicted to painkillers and died of an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin. He was 23 years old.

As attorneys brokered a last-minute settlement of $260 million, Bornstein never testified. Nevertheless, his son’s death highlights a larger trend in Ohio: last year, medical practitioners dispensed 42 percent fewer opioids than in 2010, a decline of over 300 million pills. Yet deaths were rising.

People addicted to prescription painkillers moved from opioid medications to more affordable and effective street drugs faster than expected, authorities say. Experts said the decline of Ohio’s dispensed opioid pills represents the rest of the country as stricter regulations and increased scrutiny have driven medical practitioners to reduce the number of prescriptions they write.

State legislators, for instance, shut down pill mills in 2011 by requiring doctors to provide patients with a three-day supply of pain medication during a visit to the hospital. Five years later, because they hold drugs in their offices, lawmakers mandated doctors to be licensed by the Ohio Pharmacy Board.

In 2010, more than 771 million opioid pills are sold by Ohio physicians and pharmacies, or the equivalent of around 67 pills for each man, woman and child in the state, pharmacy board records show. Last year, state medical practitioners issued 444 million pills to patients, or approximately 38 pills per resident.

Southeast Ohio saw the highest drop in the state, with five counties since 2010, decreasing the volumes of opioid pills dispensed per capita by at least 55%. Doctors cut the numbers in the counties of Summit and Cuyahoga by more than 48%.