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A new research has found a rise in overdose deaths caused by prescription drugs all over the United States. Additionally, these unintentional deaths, have been linked to "doctor shopping" for drugs and overdosing on medications not used as prescribed.

Two-thirds of these deaths involved prescription drugs that had not been prescribed to the individuals who died and one in five had "doctor shopped," looking for physicians to prescribe them pain medications, most likely opioids like methadone, hydrocodone and oxycodone.

This epidemic of prescription drug overdose clearly indicates a substantial amount of substance abuse in the country.

The researchers believe that it is now up to doctors and pharmacists to prevent further misuse of these drugs and to decrease the incidence of these unintentional deaths. They have a critical role in educating and counseling patients not only about the risk of overdose to themselves, but also to those with whom they might share their drugs. Doctors are also advised to use prescription monitoring programs that can tell if patients are getting drugs from other doctors.

The increase in the incidence of the unintentional overdoses is drastic. In five years, from 1999 to 2004, number of deaths from unintentional poisoning in West Virginia increased 550%, which is the greatest increase for any state in the country.

In 2006 alone, 295 people died from prescription pills overdoses, out of which 67.1 % were men and 91.9% were between the ages of 18 and 54. 63.1 % of them used painkillers without having a prescription and 21.5 % had sought prescriptions for the drugs from at least five doctors in the year before their death.

The research also showed that younger people used painkillers for non-medical purposes more than the older people did. In 79.3 % of the deaths, people had used several medications among which the opioids were the most commonly used.

Methadone accounted for 40% of the deaths. People who died from the overdose of this drug were less likely to have a prescription for it than people who overdosed on hydrocodone or oxycodone.

It is obvious that new and improved guidelines are necessary for appropriate prescribing of painkillers, as well as trainings of doctors to detect substance abuse in patients. Only such new guidelines might reduce the unintended consequences seen in this study.

Additionally, there is a need to expand access to addiction treatments especially within high-risk groups.


This article is very informative.