Do No Harm
By Dr. John Jones
Simplicity Urgent Care
On February 17, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new report announcing that the rise in abuse and deaths from prescription painkillers has reached epidemic proportions.
In fact, the overall number of drug-induced deaths — which includes all drugs, not just prescription painkillers, although it is attributable in large part to those — is approaching the number of deaths from motor-vehicle crashes.
Specifically, the CDC data show us that there were more than 27,000 deaths from prescription drug overdoses in 2007, a number that has risen five-fold since 1990.
Overdose deaths from prescription opioids are exceeding deaths from heroin and cocaine overdoses combined. Government officials report that drug-abuse deaths have also surpassed the number of deaths from suicide, homicide, and firearms.
Primum, non nocere
As physicians, we are obliged to help people, but our most important vow is, Primum, non nocere, which means: First, do no harm. It can be a fine line, but there is a line. From my experience and observations as an emergency department doctor, in the last several years there has been an incredible increase of patients with complaints associated with prescription-pain medications, withdrawals, and overdoses.
This is consistent with the recent CDC data, as well as with another report from June 2010 indicating that the number of visits to the ER for the nonmedical use of narcotics rose 111 percent from 2004 to 2008. What’s more, these statistics matched the number of ED visits by 2008 for illegal drugs.
Why such a dramatic increase?
Most doctors and researchers link it to the jump in narcotic prescriptions being written in the United States. Consider this: In 1997, drug companies distributed 96 mg per person of prescription narcotics. In 2007, this number had risen to 698 mg per person — which is enough for every American to take 5 mg of Vicodin every four hours for three weeks. Source: CDC
In 2008, two narcotics — hydrocodone and oxycodone — accounted for nearly 170 million prescriptions. Source: CDC
More serious markers of the difficulties with prescription narcotics were published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which looked at admissions to the hospital for substance abuse. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of substance-abuse treatment admissions rose from 2.2 percent in 1998 to 9.8 percent in 2008 — a rise of over 400 percent. Source: SAMHSA
These statistics are daunting, so here’s what you can do:
- Whenever possible, opt for the least-addictive painkiller possible.
- Ask your physician to refer you to a pain-management expert.
- If you think you are getting hooked on your painkiller, ask your physician for help finding someone who can assist.
- Know that you aren’t alone. The CDC reports show us that this problem is a growing epidemic. Asking for help is the best solution.
As always, feel free to contact me with questions: email@example.com.