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The number of patients prescribed an opioid dependency medication has nearly quadrupled in South Dakota in the last five years, according to data collected by the state’s prescription drug monitoring program.
Melissa DeNoon, director of the program, presented the data to the South Dakota Board of Pharmacy at its meeting on Friday. The increase in prescriptions shows an increased focus on opioid treatment in the state, DeNoon said.
The drug buprenorphine is a synthetic opioid that lessens withdrawal symptoms and cravings for opioids. The Food and Drug Administration approved it for addiction treatment more than two decades ago, making it the first medication to treat opioid use disorder that could be prescribed by a physician. Buprenorphine offers a measure of treatment without an opioid treatment clinic, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The number of South Dakota patients actively prescribed buprenorphine increased from just over 500 prescriptions in January 2018 to more than 2,500 in April 2023. Over 100,000 prescriptions have been written for South Dakota patients since January 2018.
The data DeNoon presented also showed that most of the prescriptions are used by South Dakotans between the ages of 35 to 44, closely followed by South Dakotans aged 25 to 34.
Pennington County pharmacies dispensed the most buprenorphine over the last five years at over 26,600 scripts, followed by Minnehaha pharmacies at more than 17,500 and Brown County at about 6,500.
A recent study released this year that tracked prescriptions from 2016 to 2019 showed that buprenorphine was drastically under-prescribed in the United States, especially for Black patients. Within six months of a high-risk event like an overdose, the study found, white patients filled buprenorphine prescriptions up to 80 percent more often than Black patients, and up to 25 percent more often than Latino patients. Rates of use for methadone, another addiction treatment medication, were generally even lower. The South Dakota data presented at the meeting did not break down patients by race.
Opioid overdoses have been the leading cause of drug deaths in South Dakota so far in 2023, with 13 opioid deaths, according to state data. Fentanyl has caused 11 of those deaths and methamphetamine has caused eight additional deaths.
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