In fact, the prescribing rate has stayed around the same over the past 10 years, and that includes the recent years when the opioid abuse scandal first hit the headlines.
Researchers from the Mayo Clinic analysed the drugs that 48 million American patients had been prescribed between 2007 and 2016. Opioid prescriptions remained fairly constant over the period, with 52 per cent of disabled patients being prescribed the painkiller.
The only concession to the epidemic seems to have been a slight reduction in dosage, from nine Oxycodone pills per day that were prescribed in 2012, to eight that were on average being prescribed in 2016.
The findings tally with analysis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which reported that opioid prescribing had increased dramatically between 1999 and 2010, and then had fallen back in the following five years, but the 2015 prescribing rates were still three times higher than those in 1999.
Opioid overdose deaths have doubled between 1999 and 2014, and by 28 per cent in just one year to 2016.
The Mayo researchers say that opioids are still being prescribed indiscriminately, and doctors need to target patients far more carefully.
(Source: BMJ, 2018; k2833)