According to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the use and abuse of prescription narcotic painkiller medications has tripled in the last decade. This is an alarming trend and needs to gain more attention from regulatory authorities. Overdoses of prescription narcotic pain medication that result in death have now surpassed overdoses from heroin and cocaine combined. In the last year, it is estimated that twelve million Americans have abused a prescription narcotic painkiller medication. By the year 2010, there have been enough prescription narcotic painkiller medications sold by pharmacies to medicate every American with a typical 5 mg dose of hydrocodone every 4 hours for an entire month. Physicians have been largely to blame for this alarming trend, and it has been suggested by one study that 3% of physicians are responsible for over 60% of the narcotic medications prescriptions. The authors of the study wrote, “Public health interventions to reduce prescription drug overdose must strike a balance between reducing misuse and abuse and safeguarding legitimate access to treatment. To find this balance, health-care providers should only use [opioid pain relievers] in carefully screened and monitored patients when non-[opioid pain reliever] treatments have not been sufficient to treat pain, as recommended in evidence-based guidelines”. This is an alarming trend and a more concerted effort needs to be made to limit the growth of this epidemic. We must all due our part to stop this growing problem.
Leonard J. Paulozzi et al. “Vital Signs: Overdoses of Prescription Opioid Pain Relievers — United States, 1999-2008” MMWR 2011: 60.