THURSDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Prescription painkillers
are second only to marijuana when it comes to drug abuse, a new
government report claims.
Some 22 million Americans have misused prescription painkillers
since 2002, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health
Services Administration (SAMHSA).
"Any time you have 2 percent of the population using medications like this there is a lot to do, but we are doing a lot with a combination of putting tighter controls on who can get these drugs and public education," said Peter Delany, director of SAMHSA's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality.
Also, programs such as the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program,
which allows doctors to track patients who may be getting
painkillers from several sources, has helped get a handle on the
problem, he added.
And although the misuse of prescription painkillers has remained
fairly constant over the past few years, the real consequence of
the problem is the number of people seeking treatment, he said.
"The number of people seeking treatment has come on faster than we thought," Delany said. "The number of people going for treatment for prescription pain drug use has quadrupled from 2004 to 2010 and we have seen a similar increase in what's going on in the emergency room."
In 2009, there were nearly 425,000 emergency department visits
involving non-medical or inappropriate use of narcotic painkillers
and an estimated 15,600 deaths involving these drugs, according to
Dr. Douglas Throckmorton, deputy director for regulatory programs
at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which is part of
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Some people are concerned that by cracking down on prescription
drug abuse, patients who need these pain medications will not be
able to get them.
Delany said these concerns must be taken into account as
solutions to the problem are crafted and implemented.
On Wednesday, the FDA proposed guidelines for drug makers for
testing and evaluating new formulations of these drugs that make
them harder to abuse by making them more difficult to tamper with
so that abusers can "get high."
In the SAMHSA report, the abuse of narcotic pain relievers
varied state to state; pooled data from 2010 and 2011 found that
rates of abuse for those aged 12 or older ranged from 3.6 percent
in Iowa to 6.4 percent in Oregon.
Seven of the states with the highest rates of narcotic
painkiller abuse were in the West -- Arizona, Colorado, Idaho,
Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
Four of the states with the lowest rates were in the Midwest --
Illinois, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota -- and four were in
the South -- Florida, Georgia, Maryland and North Carolina,
according to the report.
Abuse of these drugs decreased in Kentucky, Louisiana,
Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio,
Oklahoma, Rhode Island and West Virginia.
The report is based on data from the SAMHSA National Survey on
Drug Use and Health, which is a survey of approximately 67,500
people across the United States.
"The public health community has begun to recognize the scope of the epidemic," said Dr. G. Caleb Alexander, co-director of the Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in Baltimore.
Alexander noted that the problem is partially the result of
trying to correct another problem, namely, the under-use of
narcotic painkillers to manage pain in those who need it.
"One of the factors that has contributed to the epidemic are well-intentioned efforts to try to improve the identification and treatment of patients with pain," he said.
Another factor is the heavy marketing of narcotic painkillers by
drug makers, Alexander said. In addition, doctors may be dispensing
more pills in a prescription than a patient needs, he added.
"There is abuse and deception in every step of the pipeline, from warehouse robberies to pharmacy holdups down to theft from people's medicine cabinets, so it's a very complex problem," Alexander said.
Another expert, Leo Beletsky, an assistant professor of law and
health sciences at Northeastern University School of Law &
Bouve College of Health Sciences in Boston, is concerned that
government efforts to curb narcotic painkiller abuse may go too
"Government officials have championed a number of solutions drawn primarily from the drug enforcement playbook, such as prescription monitoring programs, prosecutions of doctors accused of over-prescribing, and pill mill raids," Beletsky said.
Focusing only on drug supply is short-sighted and dangerous, he
noted. "First, it may unduly restrict legitimate patient access to
effective pain care and, second, recent data suggests that cutting
patients with substance abuse problems off prescription opioid
medications may actually push them towards injecting heroin,"
"In other words, as we craft solutions to address prescription drug misuse, we must be extremely careful to avoid causing more harm than good," Beletsky added.
Along with actions to restrict supply, the answer to this
problem must include wider access to substance abuse services, drug
treatment, counseling and other investments in the scientifically
proven ways to address substance abuse, Beletsky explained.
For more on prescription drug abuse, visit the
U.S. National Library of Medicine.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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