The Risk of Using Prescription Painkillers

The number of overdose deaths from popular prescription painkillers has surpassed deaths from heroin and cocaine combined. Yet the public seems either largely unaware or unconcerned about this startling shift in statistics. Accidental overdose deaths are a major public health problem that is growing and has the potential to become more serious.

The issue needs to be addressed by more thorough discussion and interaction between patient and physician and more public education about the risks of painkiller abuse. Family members and friends of those who use painkillers should take action and find professional advice if they believe someone close may be abusing painkillers. It can be easy for individuals to slip into abuse or addiction and not realize it is happening before it is too late.

In 2010, over 16,500 deaths in the U.S. were attributed to prescription opioids and 75% of all pharmaceutical overdose deaths involved opioids.

Use of painkillers has been increasing for the last several decades, partly due to our demand for quick and effective treatment with little personal effort.

Between 1999 and 2010, sales of prescription painkillers to US hospitals, clinics, and pharmacies increased 4-fold, with an accompanying increase in opioid-related mortality.

A review of previous studies found that the increase in number of opioid prescriptions, the gradual increase in medication dosage and prescribing at high volumes probably all played roles in the increase of prescription related deaths. The general view and acceptance by the healthcare system of treating the symptom has resulted in over-writing of painkiller prescriptions because it is often the easiest treatment, but not necessarily the best or most effective choice.

More responsibility by physicians and pharmacists to inform individuals about the risks of taking potentially dangerous drugs needs to be followed with better monitoring of patients for abuse, along with suggesting alternative therapies for long-term control of pain. Prevention is important in the fight against drug addiction and possible death from overdose.