JEFFERSON CITY — The number of people receiving opioid prescriptions for pain relief in Missouri's Medicaid health care program has declined significantly in the past couple of years amid increased attention to opioid addictions.
New figures provided to The Associated Press show that 2019 was the second straight year of double-digit percentage drops in the number of Medicaid participants prescribed opioids, the quantity of pills they received and the overall potency of those doses.
"We're not where we ultimately need to be, but this is pretty dramatic progress from where we were," said Todd Richardson, director of the MO HealthNet Division that oversees the state Medicaid program.
Opioid prescriptions for Medicaid patients peaked in 2010, when 183,566 people received nearly 52 million pills with an overall potency equal to 726 million milligrams of morphine.
In 2019, a total of 109,610 Medicaid patients received nearly 23 million opioid pills with an overall potency equal to nearly 253 million milligrams of morphine.
The decline in Medicaid opioid use far outpaced the slight decline in the average monthly number of Medicaid participants during that period.
In 2019 alone, the number Medicaid participants receiving opioid prescriptions was down 12%, the quantity of pills prescribed was down 25% and the overall potency of those prescriptions was down 30% from the previous year.
The MO HealthNet Division said the data reflects lower opioid use for short-term prescriptions following an injury or a dental procedure as well as for long-term prescriptions for chronic pain.
Richardson cited an increased public awareness about the severity of the U.S. opioid crisis. He also credited steps taken by the state, which began working with health care providers in 2012 to try to reduce opioid prescriptions.
In 2017, the state limited many initial opioid prescriptions under Medicaid to seven days. Richardson said the state also has recently expanded its treatment options and its use of alternative pain therapies such as chiropractic care, physical therapy and acupuncture.
Opioid addictions often began with prescribed medicines, though many people who overdose are now doing so on fentanyl, another painkiller, said Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Preliminary data indicate a 10% reduction in opioid overdose deaths in Missouri in 2019, he said.