A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some disturbing news about the rate of death from painkiller abuse. According to the CDC report, the number of deaths from prescription drug overdoses has tripled in the last decade, with two-thirds of deaths attributed to opioid pain medications.
CDC officials say there are many reasons behind the increase in painkiller-related deaths.
First, this trend – severe enough to be called an “epidemic” by experts – is due to the prescribing practices of a few irresponsible doctors, not street pushers as is the case with many illegal drugs such as heroin or cocaine. This makes it harder to monitor and enforce practices that could reduce prescription drug abuse. States are also reporting the presence of so-called “pill mills,” clinics where doctors prescribe large quantities of opioid pain meds to people who don’t need them. Other patients practice “doctor shopping,” going from one doctor to another to get duplicate prescriptions for painkillers without the physicians being aware of each others’ prescriptions.
Another reason for the trend? There are simply more of these drugs circulating out there. In their report Vital Sign Report: Prescription Painkiller Overdoses in the U.S., officials found that between 1999 and 2010, there was a fourfold increase in the number of prescription painkillers sold to doctors, hospitals, and pharmacies.
Add to this the addictive nature of many of these medications, and you have a “perfect storm” in place for a widespread problem with prescription drug abuse.
Given this mix of more pills and questionable prescribing practices due to either the physician or the patient, there are some sobering statistics. In 2010, 12 million Americans said they were using opioid pain drugs without a prescription, and in 2009, nearly 500,000 emergency room visits were due to prescription painkiller abuse. This translates to a cost to insurance companies of as much as $72 billion a year. And in 2008 alone, there were 15,000 deaths related to painkiller use.
What’s the solution to this issue then? CDC officials say states can do much to stem this epidemic by better regulating narcotic medications and by more closely monitoring their prescribing practices so that doctors aren’t able to give these medications to people who don’t need them. This would also help shut down “pill mills” and doctor shopping by patients, since states would know where these medications are going, to whom they’re going, and for what medical reasons.
It’s important for people to realize that prescription painkillers are intended only for people in pain that requires this type of medical intervention. It’s also important that we all understand that this is not a problem with legal, ethical prescribing practices by doctors for these patients, but rather one due to unethical prescribing practices on the part of both a few doctors and a few patients.
Source: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Published On: November 03, 2011