More Overdoses Seen From Prescription Painkillers


About 3% of people in the United States are long-term opioid users, and the country is seeing an increase in the number of overdoses due to these prescription painkillers.

The Study

A look at 9,940 adults prescribed opioids for chronic pain found that rates of overdose have increased from 1997 to 2005. "The rate of overdose was strongly related to dose," noted senior study author Michael Von Korff, with patients prescribed higher doses nearly 9 times as likely to overdose as those given lower doses. Others with an increased risk of overdose included patients who were depressed, those with a history of substance abuse, and people also taking sedative-hypnotics (like sleeping pills).

What Does This Mean?

In recent years, as physicians have begun to recognize chronic pain as a serious problem, the availability of prescription opioids has increased. Diverting of prescriptions - selling or giving a prescription to someone else - is common, and more than half of those who have died from an accidental overdose had not received the drugs from a physician.

While opioid therapy has legitimate uses, it appears to be very prone to abuse. As A. Thomas McLellan, deputy director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said in response to the study: "We need to consider what can be done to maintain the medical benefits of prescribed opiates -- you don't want to reduce appropriate availability -- while recognizing there are public health side effects."


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