Pain drug prescription rate called ‘shocking’

One lawmaker calls rate "shocking"

Wisconsin residents last year received more than two million prescriptions for hydrocodone with acetaminophen, the generic equivalent of Vicodin, according to data from the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). That’s more than double any other prescribed medicine, a figure one leading state lawmaker called “shocking.”

“Prescription drugs are the number one contributor to the addiction epidemic we have here in Wisconsin,” said Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), who is shepherding through the State Legislature a series of measures designed to deal with heroin abuse. “I’ve heard between 80-90 precent of the heroin addictions started with prescription drugs.”

The Wisconsin PDMP began collecting information from health care professionals at the start of 2013 and began sharing that data among prescribers in June. The Department of Safety and Professional Services, which oversees the program, released the 2013 numbers that shows five of the top 10 prescribed drugs to be pain medications or opioids.

There were 2,036,247 prescriptions for hydrocodone with acetaminophen and 1,249,873 combined prescriptions for two oxycodone-related drugs. There were 427,472 prescriptions for Tramadol and 262,502 for morphine sulfate.

“It’s a dilemma for the medical profession because on the one hand, you don’t want to under-treat pain and people who have pain,” said Dr. Michael Miller, an addiction specialist with Rogers Memorial Hospital. “On the other hand, you don’t want to over-prescribe and have more pills in circulation that can be misused and can result in injury or death.”

Miller said the medical profession needs to become better educated about how to prescribe opioids. The two million-plus figure for hydrocodone needs context he said, but it’s still sends a serious message.

“It’s hard to say what’s the proper number,” Miller said. “I don’t think anybody knows if two million is too big of a number, too small of a number. What we do know is two million is a big number and that’s a lot of medicine supplied that needs to be protected. So, once the prescription is filled, what happens to it.”

To see the list of the top prescribed medicines in Wisconsin through 2013, click here: