Prescription pain meds are to blame for the overwhelming majority of drug overdoses in the United States. Christopher M. Jones, a doctor of pharmacy, and his colleagues at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their findings in today’s issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Caroline Cassels at Medscape Today pulled some disturbing numbers out of the CDC report. 38,329 people died of overdosing on drugs in the United States in 2010, the year for which the researchers compiled the study. Almost 58 percent of the cases involved prescription drugs — with over 75 percent of the overdoses involving the powerful opioid pain medications.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the opioids are some of the oldest and strongest pain meds in the world. They include morphine, heroin, Oxycodone, and Fentanyl. While they are among the most popular drugs of abuse, they are also some of the most important weapons in the fight against intractable pain.
A past report by Robert Jonathan has noted that US officials acknowledge that the fastest growing drug problem in the country isn’t illegal street drugs. It’s the abuse of pain medicines, often prescribed by doctors with the best of intentions. As the baby boomers move into their golden years, a large and aging population demands relief from chronic pain.
However, the pain meds don’t come without risk. As Kim LaCapria reported in 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was forced to ban once-popular Darvon and Darvocet. These particular drugs were pinpointed because they caused potentially fatal changes in heart rhythms in addition to being implicated in cases of addiction or overdose.
In November, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta interviewed former president Bill Clinton for a documentary called Deadly Dose. Clinton shared the story of a friend and campaign donor who lost his son when the victim mixed the pain meds with alcohol. Gupta and Clinton called prescription drug overdose the nation’s number one accidental killer.
No one, least of all a doctor, would deny medicine to people in serious pain. But no one wants to be an overdose statistic either. Make sure everyone you care about knows that prescription pain meds must be used exactly as instructed — by the patient they were meant for and without any alcohol to wash them down.