Each day, 44 people in the United States die from overdose of prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
A big part of the overdose problem results from prescription painkillers called opioids. These prescription painkillers can be used to treat moderate-to-severe pain and are often prescribed following a surgery, injury, or for health conditions such as cancer. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the acceptance and use of prescription opioids for the treatment of chronic, non-cancer pain, such as back pain or osteoarthritis.
The most common drugs involved in prescription overdose deaths include:
- Hydrocodone (e.g., Vicodin)
- Oxycodone (e.g., OxyContin)
- Oxymorphone (e.g., Opana)
- Methadone (especially when prescribed for pain)
People who take prescription painkillers can become addicted with just one prescription, according to the CDC. Once addicted, it can be hard to stop. In 2013, nearly two million Americans abused prescription painkillers. Each day, almost 7,000 people are treated in emergency departments for using these drugs in a manner other than as directed.
Taking too many prescription painkillers can stop a person’s breathing—leading to death.
Solutions according to the CDC include:
- Safe and informed prescribing practices and instituting sensible prescribing guidelines.
- Cities and states have taken steps to improve painkiller prescribing and prevent prescription misuse, abuse, and overdose. Efforts include regulating pain clinics, using systems to identify fraudulent prescriptions, and improving access to naloxone—the antidote to opioid overdose.
- States also can take steps to improve prescribing practices in public insurance programs, like Medicaid or workers’ compensation programs.
- Use of state prescription drug monitoring programs gives health care providers information to improve patient safety and protect patients. At the same time, they preserve patient access to safe and effective pain treatment.
The CDC defines abuse as the continued use of illicit or prescription drugs despite problems from drug use with relationships, work, school, health, or safety. People with substance abuse often experience loss of control and take drugs in larger amounts or for longer than they intended.