New strategies needed to prevent opioid abuse, deaths

Healthcare providers should consider improved strategies to reduce abuse or even deaths related to opioid use, according to a new study from National Institute on Drug Abuse researchers.  

The analysis, which appears in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, comes on the heels of a nearly 20-year increase in the use of prescription painkillers. Between 1991 to 2009, prescriptions for opioid analgesics increased nearly threefold to more 200 million.  

At the same time, emergency room visits related to nonmedical use of pharmaceutical opioids has doubled between 2005 and 2009, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network system, which monitors drug-related emergency department visits and drug-related deaths. 

The study used a nationwide database to track patient prescriptions and usage. Records show that approximately 56 percent of painkiller prescriptions were given to patients who had filled another prescription for pain from the same or different providers within the past month.  

In addition, nearly 12 percent of opioids prescribed were to young people aged 10-29. Most of these were hydrocodone- and oxycodone-containing products, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin. Nearly 46 percent of opioid prescriptions were given to patients between ages 40 and 59, and most of those were from primary care providers.  

The current JAMA issue includes an accompanying commentary from NIDA Director Nida Volkow and Thomas McLellan of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine who point out that prescription opioid overdose is now the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. -- killing more people than heroin and cocaine combined. 

For more details:
- see the JAMA abstract

Related Articles: 
Hackers demand $10M for VA prescription database
Hospitals need to tighten up drug diversion prevention
Psychiatrist faces Grassley's wrath over Medicaid prescribing