Although there has been a lot of coverage about the opioid epidemic and the record number of overdoses, until recently there hasn’t been a more detailed look at exactly which substances are tied to the most fatalities. With updated information from the National Center for Health Statistics, it is clear that heroin and fentanyl are the biggest overdose threats currently.
Information from 2010 to 2014 showed a sharp increase in the number of heroin-related deaths, while those resulting from prescription painkillers remained relatively the same over that time period. In 2010, the most overdose deaths were from oxycodone, which amounted to 5,200 that year, while there were about 3,000 from heroin. Just four years later heroin led the way with over 11,000 deaths. It accounted for nearly a quarter of all overdose fatalities.
Researchers were also interested in the fact that many of the overdose deaths involved more than one drug. Nearly half of all overdoses included multiple drugs being taken. One of the deadliest additives has been fentanyl, as it is incredibly potent and highly dangerous. Another important aspect of the multiple substance issue is that there are many accidental deaths caused by mixing prescription drugs, such as a painkiller and sedative while drinking alcohol.
While current drug policies are changing to focus more on treatment and rehabilitation, it is likely that more still needs to be done in order to reverse the upward trend of heroin overdose deaths in this country. The nation has been making much more of an effort over the past year, and we will have to wait to see statistics on whether that has been working. Either way, much more can and should be done to help save lives.
If you have a loved one struggling with an addiction to heroin or any other combination of drugs, contact Desert Cove today to find out more about successful treatment options.
ER doctors are well aware that many people addicted to prescription drugs utilize the emergency department as a way to obtain narcotic painkillers. They often go into the hospital complaining of various aches and pains hoping that a doctor will write a prescription for drugs like oxycodone or hydrocodone. Generally, ER doctors see so many patients that drug seekers feel more comfortable trying to get prescriptions there, as they might slip through the cracks.
A study conducted by researchers and published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine, concluded that doctors are not only aware that they work in a drug-seeking environment, but that they are more cautious when prescribing medicine that has a high rate of addiction. In the past, patients in the emergency room could expect to receive prescriptions for narcotic painkillers that would last thirty days. However, now that the prescription drug abuse problem is so problematic, most ER doctors have reduced the number of days they prescribe these drugs for.
“Our data show that opioid [narcotic painkiller] prescribing in the Emergency Department is done with caution and aligned with short-term use goals,” explained Dr. Scott Weiner, the author of the study.
In general, most prescriptions that are written in the ER are only for three to five days. This allows that patient to get the care they need, but it requires them to follow up with their General Practitioner in order to receive any more medication. It has been found that those with legitimate physical and health issues reliably follow up with their doctor, while those that were drug-seeking do not bother.
The study also charted the most common reasons why prescription painkillers were prescribed in emergency rooms. The leading situations included stomach pain, back pain, severe fractures, sprains and tooth pains.
The fact that these doctors are more cautious when it comes to prescribing narcotic painkillers indicates that the healthcare field is more aware of the role they play in the prescription drug problem in the United States.
Painkillers were originally manufactured and prescribed to handle chronic pain. For patients who did not have illnesses such as cancer but did have chronic back pain or other joint pain, patients with muscle pain or chronic headaches, painkillers were often prescribed to address this pain and allow them to live a normal life. However, painkillers do not do a good job of addressing the pain on an extended period of time, as many patients report increased sensitivity to pain and a need for more of the drugs.
So if painkillers really do not work why are they being prescribed? For some, doctors are just not informed about the risks associated with taking painkillers. Many doctors consider that addiction is a rare side effect, nothing to take too seriously because it is so unlikely to happen. However, this is just simply not true. More and more people are becoming dependent on and addicted to narcotic painkillers after being prescribed the medication from their doctor. There are studies that indicate that over half of the patients who take prescription painkillers for more than three months are still taking the pills five years later. This shows that long-term use means the patient will likely become addicted.
Another reason why prescription narcotics are being given out so much is because patients request them. When a person visits a doctor for a chronic pain problem they often assume they are going to leave the office with a prescription for an opioid like oxycodone or hydrocodone. Doctors often do not want to disappoint them and fulfill the patients requests for some form of immediate relief, which can be understandable. The point isn’t to blame doctors, but just to show there are multiple contributing factors to the problem.
In order to avoid further addictions to painkillers, doctors need to familiarize themselves with the potential for addiction. Other alternatives to chronic pain treatment should be considered either before or along with the prescribing of drugs that have a high potential for abuse. Many people find success in handling their chronic pain by consulting with a physical therapist, exercising more and changing their diet, among several other avenues. These healthier alternatives allow the person to live a life free from addiction while still being able to manage their pain.