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Caution: Prescription Drugs Can Kill You

Prescription drugs can help sufferers of medical problems by alleviating their symptoms of chronic pain. But the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has come out and advised that addiction to prescription painkillers has become an undisclosed epidemic — and it kills thousands of Americans each year.

This alarming news which include morphine and codeine has actually tripled.   Deaths from overdoses used to occur from illegal drugs like heroin and cocaine but now prescription painkillers have taken the lead. There are as many reported deaths in country areas as there are in cities. Over 100,000 Americans a year are taken to emergency rooms with overdose issues.

Americans are abusing painkillers and they are not hard to obtain. As Americans get more sedentary and have obesity problems, they are experiencing more back pain and damage to their joints and are in chronic pain. They seek out something to dull the pain and turn to painkillers. Doctors are prescribing relief from pain in the form of pain pills to about five percent of Americans in a months’ time. Use of pain pills can cause a feeling of well being and patients on them tend to abuse them and depend on even after the original pain they were taking them for – has disappeared. Patients mistakenly feel that because a doctor has prescribed these pills, that they are ‘safe’ to take and don’t realize the danger when they increase the dosages on their own.

When the prescription refill expires, users go to other or new doctors for new prescriptions, or ask friends or family members to share theirs or go on the internet to find them or can even find them on the street. Although some states have databases which track who takes what drugs, they do not yet share that information with other states. People will cross state lines to get the drugs they can’t get in their own state.

Problems begin when a person in pain does not find relief in the prescribed amount. They take extra pills to overcome that pain and become psychologically dependent or addicted to the higher amount. In the prescribed amount, the pills are safe to take, but higher doses can cause a person to stop breathing. An even bigger problem to one’s health and can be fatal to the user is when they combine this higher dosages with other drugs they may be taking or taking them with alcohol – both of which increase the risk of overdose and death.

Doctors are advising that persons with chronic pain combine an anti-inflammatory drug and/or muscle relaxant and other methods such as patches or injections. The focus should be on being functional without increase in dosages and pain management awareness that they may always have some level of pain.

From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses. Opioid overdose deaths, including both opioid pain relievers and heroin, hit record levels in 2014, with an alarming 14 percent increase in just one year, according to data published in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Report.

The most commonly prescribed opioid pain relievers, those classified as natural or semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, continue to be involved in more overdose deaths than any other opioid type. These deaths increased by 9 percent (813 more deaths in 2014 than 2013).  Increases in prescription opioid pain reliever and heroin deaths are the biggest driver of the drug overdose epidemic. Deaths from heroin increased in continuing a sharp rise that has seen heroin overdoses triple sincel 2010. Deaths involving illicitly made fentanyl, a potent opioid often added to or sold as heroin, also are on the upswing.

“The increasing number of deaths from opioid overdose is alarming,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, M.D., M.P.H. “The opioid epidemic is devastating American families and communities. To curb these trends and save lives, we must help prevent addiction and provide support and treatment to those who suffer from opioid use disorders. This report also shows how important it is that law enforcement intensify efforts to reduce the availability of heroin, illegal fentanyl, and other illegal opioids.”

Here are the facts:  Drug overdose deaths are up in both men and women, in non-Hispanic whites and blacks, and in adults of nearly all ages. Rates of drug overdose deaths were highest among five states: West Virginia, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Kentucky, and Ohio.The findings show that two distinct but intertwined trends are driving America’s overdose epidemic: a 15-year increase in deaths from prescription opioid pain reliever overdoses as a result of misuse and abuse, and a recent surge in illicit drug overdoses driven mainly by heroin.

More than six out of 10 drug overdose deaths involved opioids, including opioid pain relievers and heroin. The largest increase in opioid overdose deaths involved synthetic opioids (not including methadone), which were involved in 5,500 deaths in 2014, nearly twice as many as the year before. Many of these overdoses are believed to involve illicitly-made fentanyl, a short-acting opioid. In addition, heroin-related death rates increased 26 percent from 2013–2014, totaling 10,574 deaths in 2014. Past misuse of prescription opioids is the strongest risk factor for heroin initiation and use—especially among people who became dependent upon or abused prescription opioids in the past year. The increased availability of heroin, its relatively low price (compared to prescription opioids), and high purity appear to be major drivers of the upward trend in heroin use, overdoses, and deaths.

How to stop the epidemic:  The new findings point to four ways to prevent overdose deaths:

Limit initiation into opioid misuse and addiction. Opioid pain reliever prescribing has quadrupled since 1999. Providing health care professionals with additional tools and information—including safer guidelines for prescribing these drugs—can help them make more informed prescribing decisions.

Expand access to evidence-based substance use disorder treatment—including Medication-Assisted Treatment—for people who suffer from opioid use disorder.

Protect people with opioid use disorder by expanding access and use of naloxone—a critical drug that can reverse the symptoms of an opioid overdose and save lives.

State and local public health agencies, medical examiners and coroners, and law enforcement agencies must work together to improve detection of and response to illicit opioid overdose outbreaks to address this emerging threat to public health and safety.

CDC works with states, communities, and prescribers to prevent opioid misuse and overdose by tracking and monitoring the epidemic and helping states scale up effective programs. CDC also improves patient safety by equipping health care providers with data, tools, and guidance so they can make informed treatment decisions. Learn more at www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose.