Tag Archives: overdose deaths

Study Identifies Three Ways to Reduce Risk of Opioid Overdose in Addition to Treatment

reduce risk of opioid overdoseThere are three new helpful recommendations for doctors to follow in order to reduce deaths associated with prescription painkiller overdoses. While some of it is common sense, other parts are simple measures that can save lives. Researchers at the RAND Corporation have found that not prescribing opioids or anti-anxiety medication to patients with opioid dependence problems, ensuring that patients received psychosocial counseling and keeping up with quarterly doctor visits greatly reduced the chances of opioid-related deaths.

Researchers were able to come to these conclusions after observing the care that over 30,000 Veterans received through the VA health system. This at-risk population often sees a large amount of opioid abuse, and researchers were anxious to see what was effective within this vulnerable group. This is also the first study that has looked at developing quality measures to assure against potential opioid overdose deaths. This was important because another group of researchers have recently released data that shows the number of people dying from opioid overdoses is likely not going to reduce for several years unless some drastic changes are enacted.

These changes would be different from, or in addition to changing other prescribing habits, physician education programs about opioid abuse and prescription drug monitoring programs. It also presents another set of guidelines that can be easily checked.

“This is a very large drop in mortality and we need to conduct more research to see if these findings hold up in other patient care settings. But our initial findings suggest that these quality measures could go a long way toward improving patient outcomes among those who suffer from opioid addiction,” commented Dr. Katherine Watkins, lead author of the study.

These three recommendations have been published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, but researchers are hopeful that the information is more broadly dispensed because of the potential life-saving information to physicians everywhere.

Fentanyl More Prevalent in Drug Supply than Previously Suspected

fentanylRecent news that opioid-related overdose deaths rose again keeps the alarm sounding that more has to be done to help save lives. One of the biggest contributors to these fatalities has been the addition of fentanyl.

Fentanyl is an extremely powerful synthetic opioid that is usually reserved for treating chronic and extreme pain, such as in cancer patients and after major surgeries. However, drug manufacturers and distributors have discovered that they can add it to other drugs to increase potency while making their supply last longer.

“What we see across the country is the drug cartels moving away from heroin and moving toward these opioids they’re going to produce themselves. People think they’re buying one thing and they’re actually buying another. The stuff they’re selling is so powerful. Some of the stuff we’re seeing produced is 50 times more potent than heroin, as if heroin wasn’t bad enough,” said Van Ingram, executive director of Kentucky’s Office of Drug Control Policy.

What makes fentanyl-laced heroin so dangerous is that users usually have no idea that they are taking such powerful opioids and so they use the same quantity as they normally would. However, instead of getting the same result, they are ingesting a deadly amount and never make it long enough to receive a dose of naloxone to combat the overdose.

Recently, a safe injection facility in Vancouver, Canada implemented a testing procedure so users could test their drugs for the presence of fentanyl. Their report was shocking, as over 1,000 tests they found an extremely high percentage of the drugs contained fentanyl. This included over 80% of the heroin and even 80% of the methamphetamine and 40% of the cocaine.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has also released reports warning of the increasing presence of fentanyl in street drugs. Since users have no way of knowing what is really in the drugs they’re getting nor how potent they are, there really are only a few viable long-term options to fixing this problem. There has to be a stronger effort to get people into effective treatment programs and there has to be more focus on providing better prevention programs for people of all ages to stop addiction before it starts.

Anti-Seizure Medications Linked to Opioid Overdose Deaths

Anti-Seizure Medications Opioid OverdoseNew research indicates that one of the factors in the increase in the opiate-related deaths includes another class of prescription drugs. It was found that a recent rise in the number of prescriptions for the nerve medications pregabalin (Lyrica) and gabapentin (Neurontin) has directly correlated to the rise in opiate overdose deaths in some areas. Further investigation has shown that, in addition to opiates, users are also abusing the anti-seizure medication, causing an increase in accidental overdoses.

Drug users have discovered the calming effects of anti-seizure medication and are incorporating these drugs into their daily use. This particular study focused on parts of England, where the numbers show that there were about a million prescription for the two drugs in 2004, but that number soared in 2015, with a total of 10.5 million prescriptions written for pregabalin and gabapentin.

This discovery, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Addiction, illustrates two things. One is that addicts will continue to seek out drugs that they feel enhance the euphoria brought about by their drugs of choice, and that the medical community needs to evolve with the trends. This means that drugs that previously weren’t considered as having a high potential for abuse now need to be policed more thoroughly, and prescriptions for these types of drugs need to remain checked in order to prevent abuse or misuse.

“Poly-drug use is very common amongst drug users. We need more multi-disciplinary studies like ours which seek to combine evidence from laboratory experiments on how drug act, with accounts of what users experience and information on the pattern of drug use and drug harms – in order to make health care workers and drug users aware of the dangers of combining specific drugs,” asserted Graeme Henderson, Professor of Pharmacology and Neuroscience of the University of Bristol.

One possible solution to avoiding the combining of opiates and anti-seizure medication is that medical professionals increase their screening for abuse and prescribe non-addictive alternatives to patients that are in need of anti-seizure medication. This could help prevent future abuse and help save the life of someone who might be showing signs of mixing the two drugs.

Benzodiazepine Overdoses Also on the Rise

prescription drug overdoseThe main focus of lawmakers, medical professionals and educators regarding substance abuse has been on the opiate epidemic in the United States lately. For good reason too, because every day 44 people die from an overdose of prescription painkillers, and the rising number of heroin-related deaths is equally as alarming.

However, because all the attention has been on preventing these from occurring, people have ignored another silent killer. Benzodiazepines like Xanax or Klonopin have been killing people at a rate increase that is beginning to surpass even prescription painkillers, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

“We found that the death rate from overdoses involving benzodiazepines, also known as ‘benzos’, has increased more than four-fold since 1996 – a public health problem that has gone under the radar,” commented Dr. Marcus Bachhuber of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

Dr. Bachhuber led a team of researchers in investigating the rising amount of benzodiazepine overdoses by compiling several large surveys that were conducted on prescription trends and overdose fatalities. They quickly found that the amount of benzos that were being prescribed had increased significantly over the years. This was an important discovery because it shows that doctors are relying on the drugs to handle their patients’ symptoms despite the very real possibility of addiction and subsequent overdose.

Typically, benzodiazepines are prescribed to address anxiety disorders and other serious problems. However, the pills are extremely addictive and can cause an even more intense level of anxiety or bring on seizures if the person has a sudden cessation of use. These dangerous symptoms often cause people to continue using more and more of the pills, and a growing number are experiencing benzodiazepine overdoses. Their level of danger increases when combined with one or more additional substances, such as alcohol or other prescription drugs.

Physicians are being pressed to review their prescribing practices given the number of prescription drug problems in the country, and it would be extremely helpful if the U.S. followed suit of other modern nations and disallowed drug companies to market prescriptions directly to consumers. Understanding the trends of abuse and overdoses is vital when it comes to saving lives and preventing undo harm to patients and their families.

U.S. Doctors Cutting Back on Painkiller Prescriptions: Study

jamainternaldec8Nearly half of the physicians surveyed in a recent John Hopkins study said they were less likely to prescribe powerful painkillers than they were just a year ago. And, around half of those surveyed said they were “very concerned” about risks such as addiction, death and traffic crashes associated with narcotic painkiller overuse.

Despite their concerns, nearly nine out of 10 doctors were confident in their own ability to prescribe the drugs appropriately, according to the study published in the Dec. 8 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine.

“Our findings suggest that primary care providers have become aware of the scope of the prescription opioid crisis and are responding in ways that are important, including reducing their over-reliance on these medicines,” said Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Alexander is also co-director of the Johns Hopkins’ Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness.

Alexander added that the health care community has long been part of the problem, but now the healthcare community appears to be part of the solution to this complex epidemic. He believes doctors and patients need to consider non-narcotic treatments for pain, including other types of pain drugs and non-drug approaches such as physical therapy, massage and acupuncture.

Researchers for the study surveyed 580 internists, family doctors and general practitioners across the country. They found that 85 percent of doctors believe that narcotic painkiller are overused in clinical practice.

Almost two-thirds of the doctors believe that tolerance to the drugs occurs often. Just over half believe that physical dependence is a common problem. And, the doctors said these issues can happen even when these prescription drugs are used as directed to treat chronic pain.

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, federal officials have said. In 2010, prescription narcotics caused many of the more than 38,000 drug overdose deaths that occurred in the United States.