The Problem of Prescription Painkillers

Opioids have proven efficacy and relative safety for treating acute pain and pain during terminal illness, but do not have proven efficacy or safety for treating chronic pain long-term. These highly addictive medicines are being prescribed for what were once considered minor aches and pains and much of the time, often exceed the recommended maximum time of use.

Research has shown that the majority of all people who use opioids for nonmedical reasons such as using drugs just for the “high” they cause get the drugs from friends or family. Prevention efforts have focused on this group, but these efforts fail to target those at highest risk of overdose: people who use prescription opioids non-medically 200 or more days a year. CDC’s new analysis shows that high-risk users get opioids through their own prescriptions 27% of the time.

Many abusers of opioid pain relievers are going directly to doctors for their drugs,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “Health care providers need to screen for abuse risk and prescribe judiciously by checking past records in state prescription drug monitoring programs.  It’s time we stop the source and treat the troubled.”

This finding underscores the need for prevention efforts that focus on physicians’ prescribing behaviors and patients at highest risk for overdose. The potential for medical and behavioral problems is considerable and the fact that physicians are a leading source of prescription opioids for the highest-risk users is troubling. Many opioid overdoses may have been prevented and more needs to be done to help educate people on pain management to prevent or reduce future deadly occurrences.

Careful evaluation and monitoring is needed for patients to reduce possible harm, including a plan for long-term options for pain. Chronic pain is never simple treat, but evidence-based research indicates that most pain can be controlled through holistic approaches such as acupuncture, massage and mindfulness techniques. Consider professional advice about substance abuse and available therapies to help control pain without the use of dangerous drugs.


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