Report shows 10% decline in opioid prescribing in South Dakota


SIOUX FALLS — An American Medical Association’s Opioid Task Force report released Thursday shows a dramatic increase in fatalities involving illicit opioids, stimulants like methamphetamines, heroin and cocaine and a similarly dramatic drop in the use of prescription opioids.

The changing landscape of the opioid epidemic poses challenges for the health care system, which must pivot to treat people in danger of overdose from all drugs. The South Dakota State Medical Association and AMA are calling on stakeholders - including health insurers and policymakers - to remove barriers to evidence-based care. REd tape and misguided policies are grave dangers to pain patients and those with an opioid use disorder.

“High rates of opioid diversion, addiction and abuse have led to an increasing number of overdoses and deaths. The problem of opioid addiction has become more complicated as those who are addicted turn to heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs that are now easier to obtain,” said Dr. Benjamin C. Aaker, president of the SDSMA, in a press release.

Physicians have reduced opioid prescribing and increased the prescribing of naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose. In South Dakota, physicians and other health care professionals reduced opioid prescribing by 10% in 2019 compared to 2018. From 2014 to 2019, cumulative opioid prescribing in South Dakota is down 36.5%.


The SDSMA has been at the forefront of this issue by providing physicians with evidence-based guidelines for prescribing opioids to both effectively treat pain and minimize patient risk:

  • Through a special committee on pain management and prescription drug abuse, the SDSMA has developed two whitepapers, Opiate Analgesics for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain, and Effective Management of Acute Pain to serve as a resource for physicians and prescribers.

  • Physicians advocates worked with the South Dakota Legislature to pass a good Samaritan law that protects individuals from liability who aid a victim in an overdose emergency.

  • Physicians worked with state legislators to pass a law that allows access to naloxone for family members of individuals with substance abuse disorders. It can be administered to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

  • Physicians also have continued to educate themselves on safe prescribing, pain management and recognizing signs of addiction. The SDSMA has worked with the state to offer certification workshops on medication assisted therapy (MAT) for prescribers.

While saddened by the fact that prescription opioids were responsible for 23 deaths in South Dakota in 2019, they remain an important tool for relieving moderate to severe pain arising from a wide range of medical conditions, disease states and medical procedures when used appropriately.
“Prescription opioids remain a top concern for the SDSMA,” said Aaker. “If it weren’t for naloxone, there likely would be additional deaths. It is past time for policymakers, health insurers, pharmacy chains and pharmacy benefit managers to remove barriers to evidence-based care for patients with pain and those with a substance abuse disorder.”

Despite SDSMA and patient advocacy, there is more work to be done to include removing prior authorization requirements on substance use disorders’ services or medications and ensuring those with substance use disorders have access to treatment options and support networks.

Specific actions that policymakers can take include enforcing mental health and substance use disorder parity laws and increasing access to non-opioid pain care.

The SDSMA serves physicians, residents and medical students who are dedicated to the health of South Dakotans. The mission of the SDSMA is to promote the art and science of medicine, protect and improve the health of the public, and advocate for the well-being of physicians and patients and the best environment for physicians to advance quality health care.

Related Topics: HEALTHCARE
Erik Kaufman joined the Mitchell Republic in July of 2019 as an education and features reporter. He grew up in Freeman, S.D., graduating from Freeman High School. He graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1999 with a major in English and a minor in computer science. He can be reached at
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