The results of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health’s study, using data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s system, indicates that the use of opioid prescription painkillers is stabilizing. After a twenty-year increase in prescriptions for this family of drugs, they reached a peak of 210 million prescriptions.
Thank goodness the numbers may finally be stabilizing. These drugs are dangerous; their use has resulted in an alarming number of emergency room visits and deaths every year, more than tripling since 1990.
Prescription drug use for the relief of severe pain is a valuable tool for doctors and patients. Those who suffer chronic or post-surgical pain may need strong painkillers. Yet the abuse of prescriptions remains a major concern for medical professionals, law enforcement officials and other community leaders.
The unnerving numbers reached their peak in 2010 when 12 million people reported using prescription opioids recreationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Teen recreation use is still high and often combined with alcohol. This increases the risk of overdose and death.
Recreational use is also troubling because prescription opioids are very addictive. Keep in mind that prescription painkillers are opioids, synthetic forms of the same active ingredient in heroin. When the prescription is no longer available or becomes too expensive, many who are hooked on painkillers switch to heroin, which is less expensive and often easier to obtain. The problem is that heroin is not as strong as most of the painkillers being used, so addicts take improper doses, leading to tragic results.
State Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) have shown success with lowering prescription drug abuse rates. Most states now have some form of monitoring; while many produce great results others have not. There is not a national system at this time, but a national prescription monitoring network may be a viable answer to preventing many deaths from prescription drug abuse.