Prescription Painkillers Can Have Deadly Consequences

Opioids are associated with serious risks of overuse, abuse, misuse and death and the numbers continue to rise. Physician prescribing practices are among the contributing factors in the growing opioid epidemic being seen in America and worldwide.

In the United States in 2010, 254 million prescriptions were filled for opioids, “enough to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month” said Cowen and Co. analysts, wrote Perth Now. The main culprit, Oxycontin (oxycodone) was first introduced in 1917; however until the 1990s, opioid medications were only absorbable by the body by injection. When a U.S. company purchased the rights to oxycodone, it was long out of its patent; the company devised a way for the drug to be absorbed in the body when taken orally, a breakthrough for patients suffering with severe cancer pain, explained Perth Now.

It was when Oxycontin was touted for all types of chronic pain—back pain, arthritis—and being advertised as a non-addictive alternative to other painkillers, that the situation began escalating, explained Perth Now. In 2007, Purdue Pharma, which makes oxycontin, pleaded guilty to misbranding the drug “with intent to defraud and mislead the public,” paying $635 million in penalties. By the time Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty, the truth about the drug was being seen—that it caused serious side effects, did not last the 12 hours advertised, was addictive, and caused serious withdrawal symptoms when stopped.

The largest increase in accidental oxycontin overdoses has been seen in the 45-54-year-old age group, according to a new report by the National Drug and Alcohol Research Center. And, the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that for each drug-related fatality there are 10 treatment admissions due to drug abuse, 32 emergency room visits for drug abuse/misuse, 130 people who abuse the drug or are drug-dependent, and 825 non-medical drug users, wrote Perth Now.

The CDC released data indicating that 14,800 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids in 2008; 15,597 deaths were reported in 2009, a nearly four-fold increase from 1999. Sadly, many doctors falsely believe opioids are safe and efficacious for long-term, non-cancer pain, adding to the growing problem.

In April 2011, the Obama Administration endorsed a mandatory training program on responsible opioid prescribing practices as part of its comprehensive plan to address the epidemic of prescription drug abuse. The program would require legislative changes being pursued by the Administration.

We previously wrote that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) released plans to reduce opioid pain killer abuse and misuse, focusing on prescribers and patients. The agency approved a Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) for both extended-release (ER) and long-acting (LA) opioids. The REMS measure is part of the federal initiative and introduces new safety measures meant to reduce risks and improve the safe use of ER/LA opioids, while also ensuring access to these medications when needed for patients who are in pain.

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