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People who live in counties with higher concentrations of dentists and pharmacists are at increased risk of abusing prescription opioids, a new study suggests.

The study of opioid abuse in Indiana counties was presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association, Everyday Health reports.

The researchers found counties in Indiana with higher rates of dentists and pharmacists had more per-capita opioid prescriptions, which in turn is associated with increased rates of opioid abuse. The most widely prescribed opioid was hydrocodone (Vicodin), which accounted for 69 percent of all opioid prescriptions. Oxycodone prescriptions accounted for 12 percent of opioid prescriptions, followed by codeine-containing products at 8.5 percent, and fentanyl at 3 percent.

“We must be cautious and work with public health and health care leaders to avoid ‘overcorrecting,’ unnecessarily restricting the supply of opioids, or inadvertently vilifying or punishing providers who are struggling to meet patients’ legitimate clinical needs,” lead researcher Eric Wright of Indiana University noted in a news release. He added the study underscores the need to work with healthcare provider groups to help them dispense needed medication, while avoiding potential diversion or misuse.

“It is unlikely that efforts to educate and regulate individual providers, patients, or suppliers of opioids alone will be sufficient to reverse the growing supply or demand for prescription pain relievers,” he wrote in the study. “It is time for public health and healthcare leaders to develop more comprehensive, community-level strategies that address system- and individual-level factors that are driving the epidemic of prescription opioid abuse.”


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