Prescription Painkiller Crisis

According to researchers at Brandeis University, the University of North Florida and Johns Hopkins University, policymakers should focus on preventing new cases of opioid addiction caused by both medical and non-medical use and expand access to opioid addiction treatment. In a comprehensive investigation, the scientists show that since 2002, new cases of non-medical abuse have declined, yet painkiller overdose deaths have soared. The researchers conclude from this evidence that recreational use of painkillers is not a key driver of the opioid abuse crisis.

The researchers point to the increased prevalence of opioid addiction as the explanation for high rates of overdose deaths and for the influx of heroin in non-urban communities. Since 1997, the number of Americans seeking treatment for addiction to painkillers increased by 900%. The prevalence of opioid addiction started rising as long-term prescribing of opioids for chronic pain, a practice encouraged by opioid manufacturers, became more common.

Study co-author Dr. Caleb Alexander said:

“I think we have overestimated the benefits of prescription opioids and underestimated their risks. Although opioids have many risks, their addictive potential is of especially great concern.”

Patients today often expect physicians to prescribed drugs for minor aches and pains, and many doctors are all too willing to oblige.

Lead study author, Dr. Andrew Kolodny stated:

“We need to prevent new cases of opioid addiction and we need to expand access to treatment for the millions of Americans who are already addicted.  Without better access to addiction treatment, overdose deaths will remain high and heroin will keep flooding in.”

In a national study of hospital emergency department visits for opioid overdoses, 67.8 percent of the overdoses involved prescription opioids (including methadone), followed by heroin, other unspecified opioids and multiple opioids, according to a research letter published online by JAMA Internal Medicine, Oct. 26, 2014. This further supports evidence of a growing opioid epidemic that needs to be publicly addressed and better preventative measures put into action.