Healthcare providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers in 2012 – many more in some states than in others.

That is among the findings in the latest Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease control and Prevention, highlighting the dangers of overdose. The report also has an example of a state that reversed its overdose trend.

Healthcare providers in the highest prescribing state, Alabama, wrote almost three times as many of these prescriptions per person as those in the lowest prescribing state, Hawaii. Most of the highest prescribing states were in the south. Previous research has shown that regional variation in use of prescriptions cannot be explained by the underlying health status of the population.

The Vital Signs report also contains a study highlighting the success of Florida in reversing prescription drug overdose trends. Results showed that after statewide legislative and enforcement actions in 2010 and 2011, the death rate from prescription drug overdose decreased 23 percent between 2010 and 2012. Florida officials had taken these actions in response to a 28 percent increase in the drug overdose death rate over the preceding years (2006-2010).

“Prescription drug overdose is epidemic in the United States. All too often, and in far too many communities, the treatment is becoming the problem,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Overdose rates are higher where these drugs are prescribed more frequently. States and practices where prescribing rates are highest need to take a particularly hard look at ways to reduce the inappropriate prescription of these dangerous drugs.”

For this Vital Signs report, CDC analyzed 2012 prescribing data collected from retail pharmacies in the United States by a commercial vendor. CDC calculated prescribing rates by state for various types of opioid painkillers.

The report is available here.

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