Prescription Painkillers Found To Be More Deadly Than Cocaine And Heroin

on Thursday, 13 November 2014. Posted in Breaking News

When people think about deadly drugs, illicit drugs such as cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine come to mind.

The deadliest drugs of abuse are actually prescription painkillers. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that reviewed death due to drug overdoses, more than half of all overdose deaths are contributed to prescription drugs, the majority of which are prescription painkillers.

About 14 percent of the population have used prescription painkillers recreationally at least once in their life, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and almost 2 percent have done so in the past month.

A Rising Problem

Over the past decade (from 1999 to 2010), the rate of fatal painkiller overdoses in women has risen 415 percent, and has risen 265 percent among men. The mortality rate of painkillers is four times higher than that of cocaine and heroin combined.

In 2010, over 60 percent of overdose deaths were due to prescription drugs, and three out of every four prescription drug overdose was attributed to opioid pain medication. There were also more than 475,000 emergency department visits due to painkillers, which is double the number from five years ago.

According to a CDC infograph based on data for 2008, for every one death due to painkillers, there were 10 treatment admissions for abuse, 32 emergency department visits, 130 people who abuse the drug or are dependent, and 825 nonmedical users.

Drugs that Pose the Most Danger

Prescription medications have the most rapidly growing rates of abuse. These include stimulants (such as Ritalin or other amphetamines), sedatives (benzodiazepine), and pain medication.

The most commonly abused of these three are painkillers, especially opioid painkillers such as:

  • Hydrocodone
  • Oxycodone (OxyContin)
  • Vicodin
  • Morphine
  • Codeine

Even Suboxone (buprenorphine), which is used for the treatment of opioid addiction, has become a widely abused drug. Opioid pain medication not only reduces pain, it also creates a euphoric high and has a high risk of addiction.

In addition to building a physical dependence upon the drug, many users build up a tolerance. This means they need higher and higher doses to achieve the same results, which increases the risk of an accidental overdose.

Contributing to the Problem

About 70 percent of Americans were given at least one prescription in the past year, according to the Mayo Clinic. Out of the prescriptions, opioid painkillers were three of the most common.

Over the past few years, there has been a five-fold increase in prescriptions to opioid medication. The CDC believes that misleading marketing has caused some of the problems for the increase.

In some areas there has been an increase in pain clinics, which are colloquially known as pain mills because these clinics make it very easy to see a doctor and get a prescription for the drug.

The Link with Heroin Abuse

The rise in prescription painkiller abuse has led to an increase in heroin use and overdose death. The opioid medication affects the same opioid brain receptors as heroin. When a person becomes dependent upon the drug but can no longer get a prescription or afford the expensive medication on the black market, they turn to the cheaper alternative heroin, which is also easier to obtain.

However, unlike prescription medication, heroin dosage is not regulated, making it easier to overdose, especially for inexperienced users. The majority of current heroin users began their addiction with opioid pain medication.

Solving the Problem

In order to solve the rising epidemic, better guidelines and regulations need to be implemented for the prescription of opioid pain medication. Utilizing ways to break opioid addiction should be chhampioned moving forward.

This should help doctors be more vigilant about prescribing this medication, including screening and monitoring patients to see their risk of developing an addiction and whether they have a mental health condition.

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