There are hopes that the epidemic of opioid painkiller use may have crested, as new information suggests the number of U.S. prescriptions for the potent painkillers, which include Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet, has dropped for the first time in 20 years. This marks the first prolonged drop since OxyContin was introduced in 1996.

In an analysis of several sources of data, the New York Times found that in 2013, 2014 and 2015, fewer people were prescribed these highly addictive medications.

Experts interviewed by the Times said the trend may mean doctors could now finally be responding to ongoing Federal and State efforts to curb use of the potentially dangerous drugs.

University of Washington’s Dr. Bruce Psaty, who studies drug safety, speaking to the newspaper, said:

“The culture is changing. We are on the downside of a curve with opioid prescribing now."

In a related story, the American Thoracic Society reported last week that ICU admissions related to opioid overdoses are steadily increasing, and opioid overdose-related ICU deaths have nearly doubled since 2009.

Research from Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, University of Chicago, and Vizient, Inc., presented at the American Thoracic Society 2016 International Conference shows the strain America’s opioid crisis is putting on ICUs and the critical care teams who care for these patients and calls attention to efforts needed to meet the demands of this expanding population.

“Pennsylvania and North Carolina have nearly doubled the number of ICU discharges for opioid overdose in the past seven years,"

said lead investigator, Jennifer Stevens, MD, The Center for Healthcare Delivery Science at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

“This suggests that there may be an opportunity for hospitals and communities in these states to get ahead of the critical care needs of this population and to help first-line responders prevent future admissions to the ICU."

Image: Hugh Laurie, By Kristin Dos Santos CC BY-SA 2.0

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