America’s most fatally abused drug is legal and sitting in the medicine cabinet. Every day, 52 people die from opioid pain medications. Every year, 47,000 die from a drug overdose, mostly from prescription pain medications.
Opioids are being overprescribed. And it is not children reaching in medicine cabinets who have made drug poisoning the #1 cause of unintentional death in the United States. Adults have been prescribed opioids by doctors and subsequently become addicted or move from pills to heroin.
Perhaps even more alarming: 70% of people who have abused prescription painkillers reported getting them from friends or relatives. Most people don’t know that sharing opioids is a felony.
‘Painkillers Don’t Kill Pain; They Kill People’
People who take opioid painkillers for too long and in doses too large are more at risk of addiction and more likely to die of drug poisoning. The numbers are staggering. In a 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health report, the Substance Abuse and Medical Health Services Administration says there are 4.3 million current nonmedical users of painkillers. Nearly 2 million people have painkiller substance use disorders. “Painkillers don’t kill pain. They kill people,” says Dr. Don Teater, National Safety Council medical advisor.
People think taking opioids is the best way to treat pain. But the reality is other non-addictive medicines are just as effective, including many over-the-counter drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
Where do Opioids Come From and What is the Cost?
• Like heroin, opioid painkillers come from the poppy plant; opioids contain morphine and codeine.
• In 2010, more than 400,000 emergency room visits were made related to prescription painkillers.
• In 2006, the estimated total cost in the United States of nonmedical use of prescription opioids was $53.4 billion, of which $42 billion (79%) was attributable to lost productivity.
• Four out of five new heroin users started by misusing prescription painkillers.
• Research indicates 4% to 6% of prescription painkiller abusers will transition to heroin use.
Talk to your Doctor
If your doctor recommends an opioid painkiller, ask if you can take ibuprofen or naproxen instead. Ask about conditions that will increase your risk of becoming addicted to opioids, including:
• Depression or other mental illness
• Long-term use of opioid painkillers
• Personal or family history of addiction, including nicotine and alcohol
Be sure also to discuss whether you work in a safety-sensitive position and how your driving will be affected.
Never Mix Your Medications
Mixing alcohol and other drugs with opioid painkillers can intensify the effects:
• Never mix opioid medications with alcohol, sleep aids, anti-anxiety drugs or other pain relievers
• Do not take extended-release opioids “as needed” for pain or more frequently than prescribed by your doctor
• Talk to your prescriber and pharmacist to ensure you won’t have drug interactions from other medications
How Do I Use Opioid Painkillers Safely?
In select, individual cases, opioids may be one part of an effective pain management plan, particularly in cases involving lower-back pain. Patients should be monitored closely and opioids should be used at the lowest dose for the shortest amount of time.
He also recommends treating over-the-counter and prescription drugs with caution:
• Ask your doctor, nurse or pharmacist if you have questions about medicine
• Know the dose that is right for you
• Read and follow instructions every time
• Never take multiple medicines with the same active ingredient unless directed by a doctor
• Always put over-the-counter and prescription medicines up and away and out of sight
• National Prescription Drug Take-back Day is April 30
For more information, go to the National Safety Councel at nsc.org.