The Unintended Dangers of Prescription Painkillers

Every day there are forty-six deaths in the United States attributable to a prescription overdose. In 2011 alone, 16,917 overdose deaths involved opioid pain relievers, with 31% of the deaths including benzodiazepine sedatives as well (CDC WONDER, unpublished data, 2014). In 2012, health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for opioid painkillers. Although many injuries and medical conditions require pain medication as treatment, prescription drug overdose has become an epidemic in the United States according to the Center of Disease Control Director Thomas Frieden. Prescriptions have increased 400 percent in the last decade. Nebraska has the third lowest drug mortality rate in the United States, however does little to curb prescription drug abuse.

One reason there is such a problem with overdosing on prescription drugs is overprescribing. Unfortunately prescription opioid abuse kills twice as many people as heroin and cocaine combined, and new studies suggest that 3 out of 4 people with a dependence on heroin began with prescription painkillers. Some states have begun to institute a prescription drug monitoring program in order to deal with the problem. In 2013, New York saw a 75 percent decline in the number of patients obtaining painkillers from multiple subscribers after instituting a monitoring program.

If you have an injury requiring prescription drugs, you can avoid falling into the addiction which leads to overdose by taking your medication exactly the way it is prescribed.   Never share your medication and take steps to ensure others in your home do not have access to your medication. That may require keeping your prescriptions in a lockbox. Approximately 70% of those who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family. If you find your pain is not being managed by the prescribed dose of your medication, see your doctor to discuss alternate treatment options or adjusting your dose. Never adjust the dose on your own. If you find you no longer need the prescriptions, talk to your pharmacy about safe and proper disposal of the unused portion of your medications. Make sure you dispose of outdated medications as well.

The FDA has now approved a new drug called Targiniq ER (extended release), which discourages potential abusers from snorting or injecting the drug. This new pain reliever is a combination of the narcotic oxycodone and naloxone, which is a drug that blocks the euphoric effects of oxycodone. Although this medication can still be abused by taking too many pills, removing the effects from snorting or injecting the drug will reduce the potential for abuse.

When prescription drugs are used as prescribed, they can be an effective part of your medical treatment and management of the symptoms of your condition.   Ensuring responsible and safe management, storage and disposal of prescription drugs can prevent illness, death or unintended side effects from an accidental overdose.