After years of relentless growth, the number of opioid prescriptions in the United States is finally falling, the first sustained drop since OxyContin hit the market in 1996.
For much of the past two decades, doctors were writing so many prescriptions for the powerful opioid painkillers that, in recent years, there have been enough for every American adult to have a bottle. But for each of the past three years ”” 2013, 2014 and 2015 ”” prescriptions have declined, a review of several sources of data shows.
Experts say the drop is an important early signal that the long-running prescription opioid epidemic may be peaking, that doctors have begun heeding a drumbeat of warnings about the highly addictive nature of the drugs and that federal and state efforts to curb them are having an effect.
“The culture is changing,” said Dr. Bruce Psaty, a researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle who studies drug safety. “We are on the downside of a curve with opioid prescribing now.”