Painkillers Linked to Increase in Overdose Deaths

In 1997, two reports called for better management of chronic pain and encouraged the use of opioid pain medications. Since that time, the sales of these painkillers has gone up dramatically as have overdoses, deaths and recreational use linked to these drugs, Hall said.

Dr. Adam Bisaga, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry in the division on substance abuse at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York City, thinks that improved guidelines for appropriate prescribing, along with training to detect substance use disorders in patients, might reduce the unintended consequences seen in this study.

"This finding is not surprising. Opiates are generally very safe if used appropriately, but opiate abuse/dependence is an illness with high mortality rates," Bisaga said. "So the issue is not with the medication, but rather the detection and treatment of those who abuse and become addicted to opiates."

In addition, there is a need to expand access to addiction treatment, particularly in high-risk populations, Bisaga said.

"I strongly believe that present results could be directly used to justify implementing changes in practice and treatment to promptly reverse this worrisome trend that is likely to be occurring throughout the country, not just in one state," Bisaga said.

More information

For more on prescription drug abuse, visit the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

SOURCES: Aron J. Hall, D.V.M., U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta; Adam Bisaga, M.D., associate professor, clinical psychiatry, division on substance abuse, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York City; Dec. 10, 2008, Journal of the American Medical Association

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