The number of opioid prescriptions remains high in the United States and varies from county to county, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, the number of prescriptions decreased between 2010 and 2015.

Between 2006 and 2015, the number of opioids prescribed peaked in 2010 at 782 morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per person and decreased to 650 MME in 2015. In 2015, the CDC found that 6 times more opioids per resident were dispensed in the highest-prescribing counties compared with the lowest-prescribing counties.

The agency also found that daily MME per prescription was stable from 2006 and 2010 and then decreased 17% between 2010 and 2015. The CDC notes that the average days’ supply per prescription increased 33% from 13 days in 2006 to about 18 days in 2015.

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“The amount of opioids prescribed in the US is still too high, with too many opioid prescriptions for too many days at too high a dosage,” stated Anne Schuchat, MD, acting director of the CDC. “Healthcare providers have an important role in offering safer and more effective pain management while reducing risks of opioid addiction and overdose.”

The report included an analysis of retail prescription data that assessed opioid prescribing in the United States between 2006 and 2015, including rates, amounts, dosages, and durations of the prescriptions. The agency also examined prescribing patterns at the county level between 2010 and 2015.

The CDC identified county-level factors associated with higher amounts of opioids prescribed, including a greater percentage of non-Hispanic white residents, a greater prevalence of diabetes or arthritis, non-metro small cities and small towns, and a higher unemployment rate.

“While some variation in opioid prescribing is expected and linked to factors such as the prevalence of painful conditions, differences in these characteristics explain only a fraction of the wide variation in opioid prescribing across the United States,” stated Deborah Dowell, MD, MPH, chief medical officer in the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at the CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “This variation highlights the need for healthcare providers to consider evidence-based guidance when prescribing opioids.”

For more information about opioid prescribing, visit the CDC’s website.


  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioid prescribing is still high and varies widely throughout the US [press release]. Published July 6, 2017. Accessed July 7, 2017.