Physicians are the Leading Source of Opioids for the Highest-Risk Drug Users and Abusers

Physicians are the Leading Source of Opioids for the Highest-Risk Drug Users and Abusers

Yes, it’s true, you read that headline correctly. The leading source of opioids for the highest-risk users and abusers are physicians – not the pushers on America’s streets. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that most people who abuse prescription opioids get them friends or relatives, but “those at highest risk of overdose are as likely to get them from a doctor’s prescription.” “Many abusers of opioid pain relievers are going directly to doctors for their drugs,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Health care providers need to screen for abuse risk and prescribe judiciously by checking past records in state prescription drug monitoring programs. It’s time we stop the source and treat the troubled.”

The CDC report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine, says their research “underscores the need for prevention efforts that focus on physicians’ prescribing behaviors and patients at highest risk for overdose.” CDC explains that a “highest-risk user” is someone who uses opioids more than 200 days a year. This level of use is way beyond what is considered safe for anyone. Prescription narcotic painkillers are the leading cause of drug deaths in America, and probably in the world. Prescription opioids like oxycodone (OxyContin, Roxicodone, Percocet, Endocet) and hydrocodone (Vicodin, Zohydro, Hysingla, Dilaudid) and countless others are the most abused drugs on earth. Yes, there has been a huge uptick in heroin addiction and overdose deaths in the past few years. And that’s alarming, to be sure. The CDC found that heroin deaths nearly quadrupled from 2000 to 2013, and heroin-related deaths occur in all demographic groups and regions of the country.

Heroin overdose deaths soared a staggering 39.3 percent just from 2012 to 2013. Across the U.S. in 2013, there were 44,000 drug overdose deaths. Nearly 23,000 were from prescription drugs, and 16,000 of those involved powerful prescription narcotic painkillers such as Vicodin and OxyContin. So well over half of all drug deaths were from prescription drugs, and two-thirds of those were narcotic prescription painkillers. Every day 120 people die as a result of a drug overdose and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for drug mishaps. And well over half of those deaths and ER visits are caused by the misuse of prescription drugs. Here’s the complete breakdown, straight from the CDC: “Data have shown that the majority of all people who use opioids for nonmedical reasons (using drugs without a prescription, or using drugs just for the “high” they cause) get the drugs from friends or family for free. Prevention efforts have focused on this group, emphasizing methods such as collecting unused medications through take-back events that are aimed at providing a safe and convenient way of disposing of prescription drugs responsibly. “But these efforts fail to target those at highest risk of overdose: people who use prescription opioids nonmedically 200 or more days a year.

CDC’s new analysis shows that these highest risk users get opioids through their own prescriptions 27 percent of the time, as often as they get the drugs from friends or family for free or buy them from friends. And they are about four times more likely than the average user to buy the drugs from a dealer or other stranger. “Researchers analyzed data for the years 2008 through 2011 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Other major sources of opioids for frequent nonmedical users include obtaining drugs from friends or relatives for free (26 percent), buying from friends or relatives (23 percent), or buying from a drug dealer (15 percent).” So today, when we look at the big picture, we see that prescription opioid-related mishaps and deaths continue to exceed street drugs including the much-publicized heroin “epidemic.” Yes there is an epidemic of drug addiction and death in this country, but it is the misuse of prescription drugs which dwarfs the problems caused by heroin alone.

Nearly 5 years ago, Novus reported on another study that called for basically the same actions from doctors to help save lives. Titled “ Study Reveals Doctors Can Do More To Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse”, it was also published in a respected medical publication, the Journal of General Internal Medicine. That study said that “doctors could go a long way to reducing prescription drug abuse by more closely screening and monitoring patients prescribed opioid painkillers and other addictive drugs. Researchers at Yeshiva University in New York City found that most doctors provide ‘disturbingly low monitoring rates’ for patients taking prescription drugs, such as highly addictive opioid painkillers.” Sounds eerily familiar to the new study from the CDC, doesn’t it. Let’s hope the CDC’s new study actually gets the ball rolling.

Let’s say it one more time: The biggest problem is the inherent danger of prescription narcotics, including when legitimately prescribed by doctors. More people are in danger by popping pain pills than abusing street drugs. So doctors need to pay more attention to their patients. Here at Novus we are in the business of helping people from all walks of life get their lives back from drugs and alcohol. Believe us, we do pay attention. And we get a tremendous boost every time a patient blooms like a blossom in spring after getting off prescription opioid painkillers. In fact, many patients are also getting free from other prescription drugs at the same time, often benzodiazapines like Xanax. So it’s a double or even a triple win for everyone concerned. If you or anyone you care about has a problem with prescription or street drugs, don’t wait another minute. Pick up your phone and call Novus right now. We’re specialists in helping people get their lives back. And we’re always here to help.

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